Microsoft to open Outlook's .pst file format

Documented format to remove Outlook dependence on desktops, make it easier for non-Microsoft and open source products to interoperate

Microsoft has taken another step towards better interoperability between third-party groupware products by pledging to document its .pst file format used by Outlook to store personal data.

Yesterday Microsoft’s group manager for office interoperability Paul Lorimer posted a blog on the roadmap for Outlook Personal Folders (.pst) documentation.

A fully documented file format will make it easier for non-Microsoft products to operate with Outlook data, particularly open source projects which rely heavily on standards documentation for interoperability.

Responding to an "increasing need for our customers and partners" for data portability, Microsoft is looking to improve "platform-independent access" to e-mail, calendar, contacts and other data generated by Microsoft Outlook.

Applications can already access data stored in a .pst file via APIs, but Outlook must be installed on the desktop.

"In order to facilitate interoperability and enable customers and vendors to access the data in .pst files on a variety of platforms, we will be releasing documentation for the .pst file format," Lorimer wrote.

"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."

As reported by TechWorld earlier this year, work is already underway to improve interoperability between Microsoft’s messaging software and open source clients like KDE and GNOME.

According to KDE developer Brad Hards, the OpenChange client already has some tools which and are being integrated into the GUI desktop applications of Evolution in GNOME and Akonadi, a core part of KDE's PIM suite.

Microsoft promises the technical documentation will include details of how the data is stored in .pst format and guidance for accessing that data from other apps.

It will also provide details like how to navigate the folder hierarchy and explain how to access the individual data objects and properties.

Lorimer did not say when the documentation will be available, but it is "still in its early stages and work is ongoing".

"When it is complete, it will be released under our 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," he wrote.

The move to open up the portability of data in .pst files is another step in putting its Interoperability Principles in action, according to Microsoft.

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