The largest computer software developer in the world, Microsoft, has announced plans to open up the format of the data files used by its e-mail program Outlook. The software giant said it would provide full documentation on the format so non-Microsoft developers can interrogate and use it. Microsoft said it was making the move because data portability was becoming increasingly important to customers and clients. No deadline was given for when the documentation effort will be complete. This move has come in a market which increasingly is using Mac’s and therefore open source programmes are of increased importance. Search marketing firms will also be interested, as they use the mail facility in their day to day work. Also, ethical search marketing companies will take note, because the move by Microsoft shows that they are willing to take a more liberal approach in the market.
Microsoft already provides two ways to get at the data Outlook and Exchange servers store about e-mail messages, contacts and calendar entries in a format known as .pst. However, that information can only be accessed if Outlook is installed on a user’s desktop or laptop computer. The new standard mail facility for Windows Vista and Windows 7 is called Windows Mail, which has a simpler format but not quite the power or extensiveness which Outlook provided. A search marketing company will now choose whether they will keep their Outlook programmes, or switch to a new operating system and transfer it over. The new documentation effort will provide full information about the .pst file format and remove the need to have Outlook installed to get at it.
When the documents are complete, Microsoft said they would be free to make it possible for anyone to use the .pst format “on any platform and in any tool, without concerns about patents, and without the need to contact Microsoft in any way”. Microsoft said it was already talking to key customers and industry experts to ensure the information it provides is useful. The move could see novel e-mail, contact and calendar clients that work on many diverse devices. There is no specific time frame for the handover, but Microsoft engineers are working on the project as we speak. A prospective search marketing company will be looking for sites to promote the new look Outlook so that the general public can be made aware of the changes which are taking place.
Mr Lorimer said the move was taken as part of Microsoft’s commitment to Interoperability Principles that it announced in 2008. Microsoft is not alone in pursuing a more open agenda for its products. Many firms now provide detailed interfaces to their data or software so others can find out how they work and put that information to their own ends. For instance, in September Google set up a Data Liberation Front – a team of engineers whose job it is to ensure that its users can get at their data and do what they want with it. With the arrival of Google on the browser and operating system scene, the big players in the market are likely to be worried and try to cover their backs sufficiently. Search marketing will also be another factor for other providers to consider.