Disclaimer: Outlook and I, we're not on the greatest of speaking terms since I left it at the altar and eloped with Google Apps (we are very happy together).
Still, Microsoft looks set to give Outlook something of a make-over and introduce it to new friends with the revelation that it is to open up the programmes crusty, bloated .PST files. The bane of many an existence, the PST file clumps together a user's entire email, calendar and contacts information and is locked to a single machine. Over time the file bloats to many gigabytes in size, slows Outlook operation to a snail's pace and brings your world crashing down around you should anything happen to it.
Finally seeing the error of its ways, Microsoft is consequently planning to open up the format to "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". IE: officially allowing third party applications to bring greater flexibility/interoperability.
The logic behind this is undeniable, as is its motivation: fear of the Cloud. More than ever users expect to have all their data available at all times, over multiple devices and constantly in sync. This is what Cloud computing brings (and what *cough* Google Apps/Google Sync bring). In fact, projects like Azure and MyPhone show Microsoft understands this. Furthermore Google has been crowing this week about securing a deal to migrate the entire Los Angeles city council to Apps, so business is being lost now.
A timeframe? Microsoft hasn't laid out any dates and admits the project "is still in its early stages and work is ongoing". Still, Outlook is again headed in the right direction so you can happily sit tight. Either that, or side with Los Angeles city council...
In related news Microsoft has followed up its other progressive move of the week (Windows 7 for netbooks), by releasing the literally named 'Windows 7 USB/DVD Download tool'. This small app enables users to easily convert a Windows 7 image into a bootable version for a USB stick (and also DVD). Goodbye lengthy workarounds, hello happy days.