Microsoft Outlook Opens Up

While most of us were too engrossed in the somewhat ephemeral news of Google's (GOOG) new attempts at becoming social, something much more profound transpired — something that can have an impact upon millions and millions of people. Microsoft (MSFT) announced that it was opening up its Outlook format and giving external programs access to e-mail, calendar, and contacts. I don't know the reasons why Microsoft is taking this arguably high-stakes gamble.

Paul Lorimer, group manager of Microsoft Office Interoperability, wrote on the MSDN blog:

"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."

Pressure from the EU? Now, you might be wondering what, exactly, is new. After all, developers can access data stored in the .pst file using Messaging API (MAPI) and the Outlook Object Model—two ways folks such as Plaxo and Clear Context access information on your Outlook client. The only problem is that those methods are arguably very slow. So far most of the details from Microsoft are very sketchy and it isn't clear when the company will reveal its complete plans. To me, it seems as if Redmond was reacting to pressure from the European Union, which wants to push Microsoft down the road to interoperability.

Or perhaps it was somewhat of a late realization by Microsoft that it could turn Outlook into a platform. Blogger and technologist Anil Dash has argued about the potential of Outlook as a platform for a very long time. While many plugins have come to the market, many have argued that Outlook is not an easy platform to work on. It takes a lot of effort — ask Xobni —to work with Outlook.

I sought the opinion of Gabor Cselle, one of our favorite technology people and founder of reMail. In his past life he worked at Google (on Gmail) and Xobni, so he knows a thing or two about e-mail. "The ability to upload PSTs is one of reMail's feature requests," he said, pointing out that it won't really change things very much because much of the access is available via MAPI and OOM. "If anything this will make it easier to switch away from Outlook; for example Google could just ask you to upload your PSTs to switch to Gmail + Gcal," he said. "That would be my use case No. 1."

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.