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Microsoft fills Outlook crack with Apachesource

.PST opens up

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Microsoft has created a pair of Apache-licensed open-source projects to crack open its ubiquitous Office suite.

The company said the projects will let developers building non-Microsoft and non-Windows applications browse, read and extract emails, calendar, contacts and events information currently encased in Outlook's .pst file format. The ability to write data will be added to the SDK in the "near future", Microsoft said.

Currently, applications can only access Outlook using Outlook on client or Exchange with applications written using Microsoft's MAPI and Outlook Object Model.

The projects offer a PST Data Structure View Tool and a PST File Format SDK. They're available on CodePlex, here and here, the project-hosting site created by Microsoft.

Earlier this year, Microsoft published a 200-page technical document describing .pst, following its promise to open the file format in late 2009.

The .pst format has been released under Microsoft's Open Specification Promise, which lets "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".

Paul Lorimer, group manager for Microsoft Office interoperability, said at the time the move would let developers read, create, and interoperate with the data in .pst files in server and client scenarios using the programming language and platform of their choice.

All very neighbourly. Except that Microsoft has been forced to provide more details on how to work with Outlook, in addition to Office with OOXML, as governments increasingly expect their data to be open and accessible, and not encased in a single file format or on one company's platform.

Office has also seen a challenge in recent years from Google Docs and OpenOffice, which uses the ODF file format Microsoft countered with OOXML and is pushed by IBM and others as an alternative to Office - home to Outlook.

Lorimer noted interoperability had become "an increasing need for our customers and partners as more information is stored and shared in digital formats".

Open sourcers have tried on their own to crack open the Outlook/Exchange hegemony. Past efforts have included the Evolution email, address book and calendar system for Linux desktops with the Ximian connector to Exchange, so Evolution could work with Exchange servers.

These efforts, though, have failed to gain mass market share and left Outlook firmly entrenched as the default email client for business and looking unassailable - until now. ®

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