Microsoft Corp. Friday asked a federal judge for a four-month delay of hearings on what antitrust remedy should be imposed on the company.

The software giant told U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in a filing that it needed the delay because the states rejecting a proposed settlement of the case are seeking a "dramatic expansion" of possible sanctions.

Under the current timetable, laid out by the judge three months ago, the remedy hearings are set to begin March 11. Microsoft said that leaves it too little time to prepare.

The schedule "should be amended in view of the non-settling states' dramatic expansion of the scope of the litigation beyond what the court reasonably could have anticipated three months ago," Microsoft said in its brief.

The U.S. Justice Department and nine of the 18 states in the landmark case have agreed to a settlement that would require Microsoft to take steps to give computer makers more freedom to feature rival software on their machines.

But nine dissenting state attorneys general say the settlement is inadequate, and have asked Kollar-Kotelly for tougher sanctions against the company for illegally maintaining its monopoly in personal computer operating systems.

Among other things, these states want Kollar-Kotelly to order Microsoft to sell a cheaper, stripped-down version of its Windows operating system.

One legal observer said a delay in the remedy hearing would be a big strategic victory for Microsoft if the judge granted its request.

Such a timetable would distance the remedy hearing from a separate Tunney Act public interest hearing on the proposed settlement, said University of Baltimore law professor Robert Lande.

"If she does say that this settlement is in the public interest, then the states face an uphill fight in their remedy proceeding," Lande said. "It's enormously important from a strategic perspective."

Kollar-Kotelly asked the states to respond formally to Microsoft's delay request by Dec. 31.

In a separate filing, Microsoft said it would call Chief Executive Steve Ballmer as a witness at the remedy hearings. Microsoft chairman and cofounder, Bill Gates, did not appear in person during the trial.

Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler would not elaborate on why Ballmer was going to appear or the subject of his testimony.

"We chose the company representatives most appropriate to attest to our commitment to comply with the consent decree, as well as to counter the far-reaching proposals put forth by the non-settling states," Desler said.

Some legal analysts have said company chairman Bill Gates damaged Microsoft's defense at trial by not appearing in person.

An appeals court in June upheld the original trial court's ruling that the company violated antitrust law by illegally maintaining its monopoly in personal computer operating systems.

The proposed settlement would require Microsoft to share parts of the inner workings of Windows with other software makers.

But the dissenting states want Microsoft to also give competitors access to the inner workings of Internet Explorer and allow competitors to sell their own customized version of the Web browser.

In addition, the hold-out states want the judge to ensure Microsoft Office, the popular business software, will be compatible with other software platforms.