Microsoft uses open source to make Outlook data portable

Two new open-source projects from Microsoft were released today - the software behemoth recognizes the power of the open web.

Microsoft announced two more open source projects today, which will give developers the ability to access data from the widely used (and hacked) Outlook program - even if it's to develop competing projects.

The projects are a .pst Data Structure View Tool and a .pst File Format Software Development Kit (SDK) - the former to read and the latter to extract the .pst file data.

The .pst Data Structure View Tool is a graphical browser of internal data structures for .pst files that enables a developer to better understand .pst file content. The .pst File Format SDK is a cross-platform library that allows developers to read data stored in .pst files and develop applications accessing the data. In the near future, the capability to write data to .pst files will be added to the SDK.

The main thrust behind it is data portability - if you were able to extract the data, you could take it along with you and read it on a computer that didn't have Outlook installed.

Let's face it, Microsoft wouldn't be doing this if the powers that be didn't think it were in the company's best interests - i.e., bottom line - to release the data. But the recent agreement with Joomla! and other overtures to the open source community may mean a true change of heart in the company.

I'm not trying to imply that Microsoft has grown all warm and fuzzy about the open source world and suddenly has decided that open source is the way to be. But it is an indication of the strength of open source that a company with the customer base of Microsoft feels it's in its best interest to embrace the community.

It's a smart move, too. If Microsoft can prove to the open source community that it doesn't mean it any harm, it could potentially even expand its user base. It's been losing browser market share to two open-source rivals: Firefox and Chrome, and a small but growing crowd is using Microsoft Office alternatives such as OpenOffice.

There are many, many people who eschew Internet Explorer for no reason other than the fact that it's Microsoft. Whenever I see articles about Internet Explorer's speed or security or other related issues, a slew of comments crop up dismissing the browser out of hand. Some have valid issues, others are quite definitely hating on IE because it's Microsoft, period, end of sentence.

William Kennedy, Microsoft's corporate vice president of Office Communications and Forms, stated it simply:

"The industry as a whole benefits from tools and information that enhance interoperability with our most popular products. ... Customers are telling us they need greater interoperability, and we believe that welcoming competition and choice will create more opportunities for customers, partners and developers."

The industry as a whole - and Microsoft itself. Honestly, it's hard to argue with anything that makes your data more portable.

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