(Nasdaq: MSFT) will learn its antitrust fate this afternoon when U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (what a snappy name!) rules on whether or not the company's settlement reached with the Justice Department is harsh enough. She'll release her decision at 4:30 p.m. Eastern time.

At issue here are the penalties that will be applied to Microsoft. A federal appeals court already found the company guilty of using its "monopoly" power to illegally gain market share and lock competitors out.

Back in 2001, Microsoft was able to reach an agreement on its punishment with the Justice Department and some of the involved states. However, nine of the states felt that the Feds didn't whip the company hard enough. They subsequently released their own set of requirements.

Because of this, another round of he said/she said hearings were held, with Kollar-Kotelly selected randomly to preside. The three-month hearings ended in June. Prior to the Microsoft case, the judge had no antitrust or technology trial experience. She's largely viewed as a moderate, and can go with Justice's remedy, the states' remedy, or could take from each and propose her own.

The settlement Microsoft reached with the Justice Department gave computer manufacturers the power to hide icons and other access to Microsoft's Internet Explorer, its Windows Media Player, and other features, so that competitors' products could be substituted. The states, though, want Microsoft to offer up a so-called "modular" version of Windows that will allow computer companies to actually remove Internet Explorer and the other programs in question.

It all comes back, essentially, to bundling versus unbundling. Microsoft says it can't offer a version of Windows that would allow for the removal of programs without damaging the underlying code's operation. The states say, "Pshaw," and argue that Microsoft can, too, do that very thing -- it just doesn't want to.

We'll find out later today which side Judge Kollar-Kotelly believes. Will this, then, cap the ongoing saga? Yeah, right. Both sides can appeal, and the whole big mess -- which has already lasted four-plus years -- will just go on and on. (And on and on and on.)

Given that, there's no reason for Microsoft investors to worry today. The company's been thriving under the government's threats for a long time now -- and it will continue to do so.

Disclaimer: The writer owns shares of Microsoft and even thinks Steve Ballmer is oddly attractive in a big, gruff bald kind of a way. So sue her.