Microsoft will fight a court order seeking to split it into two companies to curb monopolistic behavior and it expects to eventually prevail in the antitrust case soon entering its third year.

The software company is seeking a stay of the judge's order to submit a plan breaking the company into two entities within four months and make certain immediate behavioral changes.

"We will submit a stay of the order so that the appeal can move forward without any harm to Microsoft or consumers," says Bill Gates, Microsoft's founder and chair.

After two years of legal wrangling, Federal District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson on Wednesday ordered Microsoft broken into two companies to protect consumers and the computer industry from future misuse of its monopoly power.

One company will market the Windows operating system technology, and the other will oversee Microsoft's applications business, including its Internet services.

The Windows company could not develop or market the Internet Explorer browser.

Also, the two companies could not enter into any joint ventures, or licence technology on better terms than they give other vendors.

Jackson also imposed behavioral restrictions while the breakup plan is being worked out, notably protecting vendors who market competing products.

Microsoft must give all PC manufacturers the same Windows licencing terms, and let them promote non-Microsoft products on their desktops.

It must also give competing software vendors the same technical information it gives its own applications developers.

Also, Microsoft would have to offer a version of Windows that does not integrate IE.

Jackson also provided protection for those in the high-tech industry who testified against Microsoft during the two-year trial.

Microsoft reacted to the ruling with confidence that the decision will be overturned.

By immediately appealing, Microsoft can avoid having to release source code to competitors and follow other policies the executives find distasteful.

Convinced it will succeed on appeal, Microsoft plans to forge ahead with Next Generation Windows Services. But "we need to keep our team together," Gates says.