Roadmap for Outlook Personal Folders (.pst) Documentation

Roadmap for Outlook Personal Folders (.pst) Documentation

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By Paul Lorimer, Group Manager, Microsoft Office Interoperability

[UPDATE: 05/24/2010, Two open source projects to facilitate interoperability with Outlook .pst data files]
[UPDATE: 02/20/2010,
New Office Documentation Now Publicly Available

Data portability has become an increasing need for our customers and partners as more information is stored and shared in digital formats. 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.

On desktops, this data is stored in Outlook Personal Folders, in a format called a .pst file. Developers can already access the data stored in the .pst file, using Messaging API (MAPI) and the Outlook Object Model—a rich set of connections to all of the data stored by Outlook and Exchange Server—but only if Outlook is 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. 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. 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.

This documentation is still in its early stages and work is ongoing. We are engaging directly with industry experts and interested customers to gather feedback on the quality of the technical documentation to ensure that it is clear and useful. 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.

Designing our high volume products to enable such data portability is a key commitment under our Interoperability Principles, which we announced in early 2008. We support this commitment through our product features, documented formats, and implementation of standards. The move to open up the portability of data in .pst files is another step in putting these principles in action.

Over the past year, Microsoft Office has taken several steps toward increased openness and document interoperability. We’re proud of the work we’ve done around document interoperability, offering customers a choice of file formats and embracing a comprehensive approach that includes transparency into our engineering methods, collaboration with industry stakeholders, and shared stewardship of industry standards.

We’re excited about the possibilities created for our customers and partners by this kind of effort, and we look forward to continued collaboration with the industry in our pursuit of improved interoperability with Microsoft Office. Stay tuned.

Paul Lorimer, Group Manager, Microsoft Office Interoperability.

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