In the clearest sign yet that a settlement in the Microsoft antitrust case is imminent, a mediator has been appointed by the judge to oversee "voluntary settlement talks" between Microsoft Corporation and the U.S. government. If all goes well, the software giant will be able to settle its antitrust case out of court, avoiding a corporate breakup or other government intervention into its business practices.

U.S. District judge Thomas Penfield Jackson has appointed Appellate Court judge Richard Posner of Chicago as mediator in the Microsoft case. The appointment came during the first meeting between the two sides and Judge Jackson since the release of his findings of fact, a scathing attack on Microsoft's business practices. Given the dire circumstances, Microsoft has stepped up its attempts to settle, lest it face a potential breakup, which became far more likely because of the non-arbitrary findings.

"We think this is essentially a very positive step toward a possible resolution of the case," said Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray. "We're looking forward to working with Judge Posner to try to reach a fair and reasonable solution."

"Judge Posner is a highly respected jurist,” said U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson Gina Talamona. "We look forward to meeting with him to discuss ways to address the serious competitive problems identified in the court's findings of fact. The department has always been willing to seek a settlement that would promote competition, innovation and consumer choice.