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Microsoft uncorks Outlook, world goes .pst

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Microsoft is opening up the data format that underpins Outlook.

With a Monday morning blog post, the company announced it's now very interested in Outlook data moving among third-party applications.

"Data portability has become an increasing need for our customers and partners as more information is stored and shared in digital formats," wrote Paul Lorimer, group manager for Microsoft Office interoperability. "One scenario that has come up recently is how to further improve platform-independent access to email, calendar, contacts, and other data generated by Microsoft Outlook."

To provide such movement, the company will - at some point in the unspecified future - release documentation on the .pst format. "This will allow developers to read, create, and interoperate with the data in .pst files in server and client scenarios using the programming language and platform of their choice," Lorimer said.

"The technical documentation will detail how the data is stored, along with guidance for accessing that data from other software applications. It also will highlight the structure of the .pst file, provide details like how to navigate the folder hierarchy, and explain how to access the individual data objects and properties."

Microsoft already allows developers to access Outlook and Exchange data through its Messaging API (MAPI) and the Outlook Object Model, but only if Outlook is installed on the desktop.

The company says it's just beginning to discuss the documentation with "industry experts" and customers. But when the work is complete, Microsoft promises to release it 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. ®

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