NEW YORK - The Justice Department's announcement Thursday that it would not pursue the breakup of Microsoft Corp. may signal the government's reevaluation of its overall antitrust strategy and may hint at a softer attitude toward the credit card associations, which have been accused of monopolistic practices, legal observers said.

The Justice Department's antitrust suit against Visa and MasterCard is now in the hands of U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones, who is expected to issue a decision in the case sometime soon. If the Microsoft decision is a guide, legal experts say, the government might be more lenient about remedies if it wins the antitrust suit, and if it loses, it might not appeal.

"I don't see them appealing," said Brian Smith, a partner in the Washington office of the law firm Mayer, Brown & Platt and a former general counsel for MasterCard. "If they lose this, they will probably let it go."

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