And there was much rejoicing!

Wow! Microsoft has announced that it will be opening up it's .pst file format (i.e. Outloook files) next year and allowing third party developers free use.

Yup, you read right; Microsoft Outlook is going open source.

It is unclear whether this will only be for the 2010 version or previous versions, as well.

At first blush, you might wonder why Microsoft is giving away the store. Let's think this through, however.

First of all, Microsoft doesn't do anything unless it's good for Microsoft (businesses do have that tendency, don't they?).

There's no doubt that this will cost Microsoft some business. This will allow other e-mail vendors (Google and Mozilla come to mind immediately, but there are countless others) to make it a lot easier to steal Outlook clients. That's because it will be possible to switch and save old data from the previous Outlook account.

That's surface stuff, however

What bits of market share it loses to other e-mail competitors, it will more than save by keeping much more important enterprise and small business clients happy.

Here's how:

- This will make it possible to develop tools to scan Outlook files for viruses and data mine for specific information (especially helpful for compliance and e-Discovery in legal matters),

- This means companies will be able to data port ,pst files to the "Cloud" and not require Outlook to access them. (That's the biggie right there!).

Microsoft, I believe, made a Hobson's choice. In order for Outlook to survive the long haul, it has to interoperate with other applications, specifically the applications of thier customer's choice.

This is the paradox of open source software, itself; the more you give it away, the more you get back by making it a more robust tool. Stand-alone tools are less and less robust in today's environment. It looks like Microsoft is finally figuring that out

That, or they're just trying to throw a bone to the European Union's investigation into other interoperability issues.