Just when it seemed a real conclusion was near in Novell's antitrust dispute against Microsoft, a deadlocked jury has forced the lawsuit to end in a mistrial. US District Judge J. Frederick Motz dismissed the jurors after three days of deliberation, with one of Novell's attorneys telling Bloomberg Businessweek that 11 of the 12 had actually reached a decision against Microsoft. Motz had asked both companies if they would accept a less-than-unanimous decision to decide the trial, but Microsoft declined.

The case stems from Microsoft's behavior in connection with the release of Windows 95. Novell, which owned WordPerfect at the time, contends that Redmond pulled third-party developer access to certain Windows 95 system elements in an attempt to give Microsoft Word an edge over the competition. WordPerfect's marketshare dropped to less than 10 percent by 1996, according to the company, down from the almost 50 percent it held in 1990. WordPerfect was sold off in its entirely in 1996. Bill Gates denied the allegations in testimony last month.

Novell was seeking as much as $1.3 billion in damages, and its attorneys are hoping to see a different outcome in a retrial. After such a close call, however, we can't help but wonder if Microsoft will feel more pressure to settle outside of the courtroom. "This jury was a very diligent jury," Microsoft attorney Jim Jardine told Businessweek, "and there are other steps that we can do to move forward." Novell settled previous antitrust claims against Microsoft in 2004 for $536 million.