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has settled yet another class-action lawsuit, this time agreeing to pay California consumers as much as $1.1 billion to compensate for inflated software prices.

California Superior Court Judge Paul H. Alvarado granted final approval to the settlement late Wednesday, saying that the dollar amount of the agreement "constitutes fair, reasonable and adequate compensation to the Class."

More than 14 million California consumers and businesses are eligible to collect large refunds on past purchases of Microsoft operating systems and applications software. Claim forms may also be obtained immediately

here or by calling 1-800-960-5660.

Last month, Microsoft agreed to pay up to $241.4 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by Minnesota computer users who claimed the software company overcharged them. The settlement includes $174.5 million in computer equipment vouchers for consumers, and caps attorneys fees at $59.4 million, the

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A similar suit in Vermont will result in the issuance of up to $9.7 million in vouchers to consumers.

Microsoft has settled similar suits with a total of 14 states, plus the District of Columbia, as well as various suits brought by consumers.

The settlements are far more significant than the amount of cash would indicate. Once Microsoft is reasonably sure that no major legal judgments are lurking in the woods, it can proceed to resolve the so-called problem of having far too much cash on hand.

With $56.4 billion in cash plus $15.2 billion in strategic investments, Microsoft has drawn the ire of investors who say the company should share the wealth with them rather than register paltry single-digit returns on that stash. The company is expected to announce its plan to solve the Midas-like crisis at an analysts meeting in late July -- a

massive stock buyback or dividend increase are reportedly two possibilities.