Microsoft opening Outlook data format

October 27, 2009 | 10:02

Tags: #outlook #outlook-express

Companies: #microsoft

Outlook haters rejoice - Microsoft has announced that it is working on opening up the notoriously opaque .PST specification for third-party use.

As reported over on CNet, the software giant has promised to publish full specifications as to the format of the .PST files used by the company's Outlook e-mail and calendar application in order to improve interoperability in the marketplace.

While third-party solutions for working with .PST files have always existed, they rely on a reverse-engineering of the format - meaning frequent data corruption, crashes, and the tendency for support to suddenly disappear should Microsoft release a format update.

Recognising this issue, group manager Paul Lorimer has stated in a posting to his blog that the company is looking to specifically address "how to further improve platform-independent access to email, calendar, contacts, and other data generated by Microsoft Outlook."

By removing the dependency on API calls, Microsoft is able to allow systems without Outlook - including those running non-Microsoft operating systems such as Linux - to "read, create, and interoperate with the data in .PST files in server and client scenarios."

In yet more good news for the open source enthusiasts, Lorimer has confirmed that the specification - which the company is promising to release just as soon as it is certain that it's "clear and useful" - will be released under the company's "Open Specification Promise, which will allow anyone to implement the .PST file format on any platform and in any tool, without concerns about patents, and without the need to contact Microsoft in any way."

Do you believe that it's about time Microsoft got around to documenting some of its more opaque specifications and file formats, or is this unlikely to increase the uptake of the .PST format outside Outlook monocultures? Share your thoughts over in the forums.
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