There is little doubt that Microsoft antitrust trial judge Thomas Penfield Jackson intends to break up the company. The only remaining question is how many pieces?

Jackson's remedy could be issued this week, triggering an appeals process that will last one to two years, legal experts said.

In a hearing on remedies last week, Jackson focused his attention on the breakup options.

He seemed to favour a proposal to split Microsoft three ways by also turning its browser business into a separate company.

Jackson also dismissed Microsoft's plan to hold an extensive series of hearings on remedies. The company had assembled a list of 16 witnesses, including Bill Gates.

Microsoft attorneys were stunned but remained confident of their appeal odds. "We have several rounds to go," said William H. Neukom, Microsoft's vice president for legal affairs.

Once the remedy is issued, Jackson's immediate role ends. But "Judge Jackson is making it clear that he's lost his patience with Microsoft's requests to prolong the proceedings," said Hillard Sterling, an attorney at Gordon & Glickson PC in Chicago.