Updated from 12:31 p.m. EDT

Federal antitrust prosecutors met Tuesday with White House attorneys and economic advisers to

President Clinton

to discuss their proposal to split Microsoft into two separate companies, Government officials said.

As prosecutors made final preparations to submit their proposal, Microsoft's top two officials defied the court overseeing the case to break up the company.

``This company, which has done so many great things for consumers and the American economy over the last 25 years, will not be broken up,'' wrote Steven Ballmer, the company's chief executive. "No matter what the newspaper headlines say, absolutely nothing in the current case justifies breaking us up.''

Ballmer made the comments in an email that was reportedly obtained by the

Reuters

news service.

Assistant Attorney General Joel Klein, who has led the government's long-running antitrust case, conferred with Martin Baily, the chairman of the

Council of Economic Advisers

; Lawrence Summers, the Secretary of the Treasury and Gene Sperling, director of the

National Economic Council

, according to a White House spokesman.

White House Counsel Beth Nolan also attended the meeting, according to White House spokesman Jim Kennedy. The meeting lasted around two hours, he said. Officials from the 19 states whose lawsuits have been consolidated with the suit filed by the Justice Department did not attend, state and federal officials said.

The Justice Department's tentative proposal, which is expected to be submitted to a federal judge later this week, would force Microsoft to separate its industry-standard Windows operating system into one company, and its Office applications software business and most other operations into a second company.

Company founder William H. Gates granted a rare interview to the

Associated Press

to condemn the Justice Department's reported plans.

``We wouldn't have Windows today if it hadn't been for the Office group and the Windows group working together,'' Gates said, speaking to the

Associated Press

by telephone from a computer hardware developers' conference in New Orleans. ``It was the thinking that was done, being in one company, going after a new user interface, taking a huge risk, that we were able to create Windows.''

In the antitrust case, U.S. District Judge Thomas Jackson issued a harsh ruling April 3, finding that Microsoft monopolizes the market for computer operating systems, illegally tying products together and employing predatory tactics to maintain and extend its monopoly.

Microsoft shares gained 1 13/16, or 3%, to 68 7/16 in midday trading, a day after falling 15% as the company lost nearly $70 billion in market valuation. (Microsoft closed up 2 3/4, or 4%, at 69 3/8.)