The Bush administration's announcement Thursday that it was no longer seeking to break up Microsoft sparked accusations that the White House was reluctant to pursue legal actions against big corporations — but earned praise from those who believe the antitrust lawsuit should be resolved quickly.
Critics of the decision pointed to a similar move in June in which the Justice Department sought to settle a long-simmering civil lawsuit against the tobacco industry.
In both cases, the White House has altered course in Clinton-era suits against large corporations, reflecting the new administration's philosophy that lawsuits are not the best way to resolve disagreements.
But officials said the legal shift in the Microsoft case was not a retreat or an overture to enhance chances of a settlement. They also denied there was any involvement from the White House, where Microsoft executives have come calling in recent months. The company was also a top contributor to Republicans.
Officials said the decision was driven by a conviction that a just punishment, albeit one that involves keeping Microsoft together, could be devised to correct the illegal monopoly Microsoft maintained over the computer software market.
They suggested the government would ask the new judge handling the antitrust case to review the Windows XP software and seek a penalty that ensures the company doesn't operate as an illegal monopoly in the future.
Not everyone agreed with the administration's stance. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., accused the Justice Department of trying to weaken and slow down the case and questioned whether political aides at the White House influenced the decision.