Microsoft revealed two open source projects intended to improve interoperability with Microsoft Outlook files and even enable easier migrations from Outlook. Projects include tools to make it easier for developers to read and write data out of Microsoft Outlook Personal Folders (.pst) files. These files store email, contacts, attachments, and other data.
Available under an Apache licence at Microsoft's CodePlex open source projects site, projects include a .pst Data Structure Tool and a .pst File Format SDK. Developers can use the tools in conjunction with .pst file format documentation released earlier this year and available at Microsoft's website.
The data structure tool gives developers a visual representation of data in the .pst file, said Paul Lorimer, group manager for interoperability in the Microsoft Office group. "[The tool] lets you visually navigate through the different levels of hierarchy," to understand where data is stored in a .pst file, Lorimer said.
The SDK, he said, "is a cross-platform library of code that can read all of the data out of a .pst file," he said.
Developers can use the tools to build solutions like a photo extraction application, an archive search application, or software to upload data to a computing cloud. But they could also use them to migrate Outlook data to a competitor's system, said Lorimer.
"We've heard from our users that they're concerned about getting locked in to Microsoft applications, and this is really just a path" to provide access, transparency, and interoperability, Lorimer said. "I think it makes our customers happier that we're providing transparency and that they're not locked in".
"We hope that we're producing better software and people will choose to use our products" rather than migrate to a rival platform, he said.
Prior to release of the tools and documentation, developers could access data stored in the .pst file format using MAPI (Messaging API) and Outlook Object Model. But Outlook had to be installed on the client. The tools remove the need for Outlook to be installed on a desktop in order to access .pst files.
Asked about privacy concerns of applications that access email, Lorimer said users must choose to offer access to their .pst file. "We've heard from our users and our competitors that it's important to be able to access data in the .pst file so that the data is not locked into Outlook," Lorimer said.