Open-source tools aid Microsoft Outlook access

New development tools also available for government users

Microsoft has released a set of open-source software tools and technical documentation designed to enhance the interoperability and flexibility of Outlook data. Specifically, the material facilitates the portability of data in .pst files, allowing government and commercial users more flexibility in storing, sharing and manipulating information created in Microsoft Outlook.

Joseph Krawczak, Microsoft’s group program manager for Outlook, said the company recognizes that its customers are increasingly working in complex, heterogeneous environments that require the ability to use data across a range of platforms and applications. In this context,  interoperability is the ability to easily move data stored in Outlook .pst files to multiple platforms with programs and applications created by multiple vendors, and to use it from any of those applications.

The new tools and documentation allow developers to build new applications that interoperate with Microsoft Outlook and the data it stores. “While it may seem counterintuitive, we believe that welcoming competition and choice will make us more successful and it will create new opportunities for our customers, partners and developers,” he said.

From an organizational standpoint, the new Microsoft offering allows government agencies, or departments within an agency, to create a framework for information sharing. According to Krawczak, the material provides technical details on protocols for communicating with data stored in the .pst file format, and provides information on navigating folder hierarchies and vendor data structures. He says that Microsoft’s open source project provides government agencies with the ability to easily access data stored in .pst files in their own software solutions without having to invest in building these functionalities themselves.

Although Outlook's personal folders -- the .pst files -- typically contain an individual’s Outlook information, Krawczak said there are situations where the government may need to access this data and turn to a third-party application to facilitate searching through e-mail archives. One example would be to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request, he said.

Microsoft has released three tools designed to facilitate .pst file interoperability. Krawczak said the tools provide government IT professionals and developers with the same capabilities as commercial software developers by facilitating access to data and enhancing data portability.

The three tools consist of technical documentation, a .pst data structure view tool, and a .pst file format software development kit. The technical documentation is designed to help developers navigate folder hierarchies and access individual data objects and properties. The documentation is released under Microsoft’s Open Source Specification Promise, which allows any user to implement the .pst file format on any platform in any tool without patent concerns or the need to contact Microsoft.

The .pst data structure view tool provides a graphical browser of Internet data structures for .pst files to help developers to better understand stored content. The software development kit is a cross-platform library that lets developers read data stored in .pst files and to develop applications that access data without requiring Outlook to be installed, Krawczak said. 

Krawczak said that before these documents and tools were available, developers could only access data in the.pst format when Outlook was installed on the desktop.The new documentation and tools remove that requirement and broaden access to the .pst file format, he said.

As government organizations transition to cloud computing, Krawczak said the developers’ tools will enhance portability from Outlook to the cloud and could help with security, archiving, search and enterprise content management applications.

“Developers within government agencies and developers with independent software vendors can use them to build solutions that help increase access to Outlook .pst files for corporate compliance, e-discovery and other governance,” he said.

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