Mozilla opens up Microsoft's closed Outlook PST format

Tim O'Reilly has written his annual braindump in preparation for the Open Source Convention. His essays are always thoughtful. This time, I was struck by one particular comment:

In a recent piece on the difficulty of extracting his mail and contacts from Outlook 2000, Dale Dougherty wrote a paragraph that ought to be studied hard by decisionmakers at Microsoft:

Nike is running a series of bold, new commercials featuring Tiger Woods who says his contract with Nike doesn't require him to use its equipment unless he finds it to be the best in the market. He says with amusement that it puts the pressure on Nike to be the best or else. If Microsoft is the best at what it does, then it shouldn't have to resort to this kind of lock-in of its contract with users. Let us choose the best.

Well said. But, uh oh, I've been using Outlook for a few months now, and have rather gotten to like it. Is my data really locked in that PST file? This was an important heads-up because if so, I'd have to bail.

I consulted Google, and found that the best importer/exporter of Outlook's PST database is none other than Mozilla. (I wonder if it uses Dave Smith's LibPST?) This was a great excuse to refresh my pre-1.0 Mozilla with the 1.0 release. In no time flat I had my Outlook mail sitting in MBOX (i.e., plain text) files under Mozilla's mail tree. Importing my Outlook contacts was equally successful. This is just spectacular! Great work, Mozilla team!

As a bonus, I tried again to establish signing/encryption capability in Mozilla's mail client, something I'd failed to achieve with the pre-1.0 code. Got that working too. For the moment, since Outlook is a better PIM than Mozilla, I'll probably continue using it. But it's great to know that Mozilla's mail client can now work with my Thawte freemail certificate. And knowing that it can also readily force Outlook to regurgitate mail and contacts as usable text files really sets my mind at ease.

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