A circuit judge in the state of Florida has awarded class-action status to a group of lawsuits against Microsoft. The lawsuits allege that the company violated state laws against unfair trade practices by artificially raising the prices of its products. The class-action lawsuit, which is the latest of many legal challenges the company is facing in the wake of its sweeping antitrust woes, affects every consumer in Florida who purchased a PC that included Windows 98 or Windows 95 or Microsoft Office, Excel, or Word on or after November 15, 1995. Florida joins several other states, including California, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, in bringing class-action suits against Microsoft.

Microsoft challenged the class-action status, stating that quantifying how consumers were overcharged is impossible and that the vast number of potential plaintiffs makes it difficult to determine how similar each case is. However, Miami Circuit Judge Bernard Shapiro rejected the company's argument and concluded that Microsoft's monopoly power and alleged violations of state law made the case "ideally suited for classwide determination."

Microsoft maintains that it will win its case in Florida. "We believe we will ultimately prevail because the facts are very clear," a company spokesperson said yesterday. "We offer a product that provides great benefits to consumers at a very low price."