This morning, Microsoft announced that it has entered into a broad agreement and collaboration with Xandros, a Linux distribution maker. The deal, which is similar in nature to the controversial agreement Microsoft reached earlier this year with Novell, will see each company make a set of technical, business, marketing and intellectual property commitments to each other.

"Customers win when their platform providers build collaborative relationships," says Microsoft general manager of platform strategy Bill Hilf. "We have been working with commercial open source companies to deliver better value to our customers in areas like server interoperability, systems management and office document formats. We believe in and encourage respect for all licensing and development models, and intellectual property is an important component in this environment. Our announcement with Xandros is an exciting step to deliver what our mutual customers have been asking for."

The two companies say they will work on five key areas of collaboration over the next five years: systems management interoperability, server interoperability, Office document compatibility, intellectual property assurance, and Microsoft sales and marketing support. The intellectual property bit is, of course, the most interesting: Microsoft says that it will make "patent covenants" available to Xandros customers, shielding them from potential lawsuits. These covenants were a key part of the similar Novell agreement, which was widely denounced by the open source community, especially after Microsoft began selectively revealing the number of its patents the company believes Linux and the open source community are violating.

For Xandros, the decision to collaborate with Microsoft was pragmatic. "Companies today are running a mixture of Linux and Windows systems," Xandros CEO Andreas Typaldos says. "Cross-platform data centers are a reality. To meet evolving customer needs, vendors need to recognize the value of sharing intellectual property, developing more interoperable solutions, and providing management tools that are familiar and easy to use."