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The second part of the agreement between Microsoft and the European Commission, although it will garner fewer headlines, is by far the most important part of the agreement.

This part of the deal breaks new legal and technical ground in attempting to remove the European Commission from future disagreements between companies in this area.

Microsoft has issued what amounts to a public pledge to behave properly in future in giving competing companies proper access to its APIs and other communication protocols.

The 13-page Public Undertaking is summarised in one sentence: "Microsoft shall ensure that third-party software products can interoperate with Microsoft’s Relevant Software Products using the same Interoperability Information on an equal footing as other Microsoft Software Products."

The company promises to support public, open industry standards and document that support.

Access to interoperability information will be "subject to no more than a nominal upfront fee" - this issue particularly irking the open source community.

Microsoft promises to provide interoperability information for its server operating systems, SharePoint, Outlook and Exchange, productivity applications and .NET. Internet Explorer will also follow public standards.

The firm will also make available APIs for its PC operating system through the Microsoft Developer Network, unless doing so would create a security risk.

The devil of course is in the detail. All the documents are available from this page - let us know what you think via comments or email.

By now some of the cynics amongst you may be asking: "Why the hell should we believe that Microsoft will really do any of this in such a way that the information can be used by competitors?"

The second part of the agreement aims to ensure that this is enforced without the need for the European Commission, or any other regulator, to get involved.

It is a warranty agreement template to be signed between Microsoft and any software firm which wants access to APIs. It aims to guarantee interoperability "with certain specified Microsoft products (Covered Products) on an equal footing with and to the same degree that Microsoft’s own software products interoperate with those specified Microsoft products.

"Whereas, Company does not desire to receive any information that could be used to clone or port Microsoft products in whole or in part."

This document aims to provide the basis for a civil case should Microsoft fail to provide the interoperability information without dragging itself, and the Commission, into another ten-year legal battle. ®

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