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Microsoft signs security pact with Germany

CEO Steve Ballmer settles a security agreement with the federal government of Germany, which has become one of the most prominent of Linux supporters.

Microsoft signed a security-related agreement Monday with the federal government of Germany, where the software giant has seen numerous challenges involving open-source products.

The agreement, signed by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Interior Minister Otto Schily, commits Microsoft to working with several security-related bodies and supporting a German standard for secure legal transactions.

As part of the deal, Germany will license extensible markup language (XML) dialects used by Office 2003, the latest version of Microsoft's market-leading productivity package.

Microsoft agreed late last year to provide royalty-free licenses for the XML schemas used by the main applications in Office, following an experiment with the Danish government.

Office uses XML to ensure that data in documents can be read by other computing systems. While XML itself is an open standard, Office builds on the standard with proprietary schemas some feared could be used to lock out competing applications.

Also under the agreement, Microsoft pledged to build support for OSCI, a German standard for secure legal transactions, into its .Net framework. Microsoft also agreed to continue participating in Interior Ministry programs to promote open standards and interoperability among software applications.

In recent years, Germany has emerged as one of the most high-profile supporters of open-source software that has replaced Microsoft products. The city of Munich last year voted to migrate 14,000 government-owned Windows PCs to Linux, and the federal government has backed several significant Linux development projects.

Ballmer said Microsoft would continue to work with the German government to promote security. "On the topic of IT security, Germany has a leading role in Europe," he said in a statement. "The agreement executed today is a milestone for Microsoft as to trusting cooperation with governments in Europe and worldwide."