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Microsoft to open Outlook data format

Microsoft announced Monday that it plans to pry the locks off the closed, proprietary format of its Outlook e-mail/contacts/calendar/tasks/notes application.

By documenting the workings of Outlook's Personal Storage Table (PST) format--one of my least-favorite locked formats--Microsoft would make it far easier for developers to write Outlook-compatible software to complement or replace that widely used program. Furthermore, Microsoft plans to publish this documentation under terms that free other developers from having to pay for it, agree to a license or contact Microsoft at all.

This move represents a remarkable concession by the Redmond, Wash., firm--on the order of its opening the file formats used by the rest of its core Office productivity applications.

The news arrived in a blog post by Paul Lorimer, Microsoft's group manager for Microsoft Office interoperability:

"...we will be releasing documentation for the .pst file 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 that this effort "is still in its early stages" and will need more input from "industry experts and interested customers" about the usefulness of Microsoft's PST documentation. That could take a while, considering the complexity of this format--Outlook can have trouble just opening a PST file created with an older version.

Don't expect this to improve your selection of e-mail applications next year, in other words. But in two or three years... who knows? At a minimum, home users should expect more, faster and easier options for taking their data out of Outlook and into competing programs.

Do you use Outlook on your own time? What's your take on the news?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  October 26, 2009; 4:52 PM ET
Categories:  E-mail , Windows  
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No way do I use Outlook. I'm forced to use it at work. Thunderbird is SOOO much better.

Posted by: jgluke | October 26, 2009 5:26 PM | Report abuse

WOW !!!


We have discussed this issue on occasion and your observation was that the only competing program was Thunderbird --- well this is excellent news.

Any idea what plans ?

An Outlook competitor from then would have some meaning.

Posted by: | October 26, 2009 11:13 PM | Report abuse

I am looking forward to someone writing an application that lets me merge or manage all my archive .pst files, so that I can tell the dates of the messages within each archive. My work system used to force me to archive often to reduce the size of my working .pst file. Letting any archive get too big led to slow performance when I needed to find an old item, so I ended up with lots of archive files and even when I used clever names like 20091027archive, I would soon forget what that archive held.

Posted by: wdnewho1 | October 26, 2009 11:25 PM | Report abuse

This is a huge step forward. In OpenOffice one could go both ways: into and out of the OO formats. With Thunderbird one could only go one way: out of Outlook into Thunderbird. This effectively prevented one from switching if one needed to keep both systems operating while Thunderbird was tested.

Posted by: johnbradley | October 27, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

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