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Microsoft drop the ball with Outlook 2007

Well it looks as if Microsoft has screwed up royally with Outlook 2007, at least insofar as the way HTML emails are rendered. Instead of using the not-too-shabby Internet Explorer 7 rendering engine to display HTML emails, Microsoft opted to use a customized version of the Word 2007 rendering engine. That’s right, from now on your beautifully constructed HTML newsletters are going to be rendered by the crime against layout known as Microsoft Word. That fact alone was enough to send shivers down my spine, but when I dug a little deeper I discovered just how dire the situation really is.

Until now, Outlook has stood its ground as one of the better email clients when it comes to rendering HTML. Sure, there wasn’t perfect parity between Outlook and Internet Explorer, but it was close enough to make do. However, with the switch to the Word rendering engine Outlook has taken a leap back into the dark ages, and now ranks somewhere alongside Lotus Notes and Eudora in terms of its rendering capabilities.

Here are a few of the significant HTML and CSS goodies you’re going to have to kiss goodbye:

  • Background images
    Want a background image on that table cell or div? Forget about it friend, you have to make do with solid colors from now on.
  • Floats
    Just when HTML email designers were tentatively proclaiming that CSS layouts were achievable, Microsoft have decided to rain on our parade.
  • Flash
    Your recipients are just going to see a “red x” where the Flash movie would have been.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – you can see a complete list of the missing HTML/CSS elements, properties and attributes on the MSDN site.

None of these limitations is going to make the task of designing HTML emails impossible, but they will ensure that no advances are made in this field for a good number of years. Remember, it’s been four years since the last version of Outlook was released, so I’m going to guess it’ll be at least six years before Outlook 2007 drops off the edge of the map.

Microsoft are claiming that enhanced security is behind the decision, which seems odd considering how they keep harping on about how secure Internet Explorer 7 is compared to its predecessor. And as usual it’s the web designers – and consumers – who get shafted. Hopefully when Microsoft’s customer base realize how crappy their HTML newsletters now look, they will start consider alternative email clients such as Thunderbird. Maybe then Microsoft will realize how shortsighted they have been.

Further reading

Broken HTML/CSS Rendering in Outlook 2007

Joe Hardy has an excellent gripe about the situation, and details some of the specific problems you might encounter when designing HTML emails for Outlook 2007.

Word 2007 HTML and CSS Rendering Capabilities in Outlook 2007

Straight from the horse’s mouth.

10 Responses to “Microsoft drop the ball with Outlook 2007”

  1. The only people who care about Outlook 2007 using Word to render its emails, and the loss of the aforementioned features are designers and developer. Not USERS!

    What user said “I wish I got more of those pointless marketing emails!”.
    What user said “I could just go a big background picture for my emails!”
    What user said “I wish I could trach the open count of my emails!”

    Not I…

  2. Tinus says:

    Apple is embracing HTML e-mails with Leopard’s Mail. See the Leopard preview at apple.com. Apple wanted to make HTML really usefull, and Microsoft tries to break this with the new Outlook.

  3. Ephram Zerb says:

    This is a serious blow to email. Yes, users may not care about the HTML / CSS compatibility of their email client; but in the end, they are the ones that suffer. Imagine the internet condemned to one column layouts. Emal is almost ubiquitous in its adoption and is the most viable way for individuals to access on-demand information. Compatibility with all clients is an omnipresent constraint in web design, by crippling an important email client, you are consigning the entire medium to mediocrity.

  4. Mike says:

    I do a tech talk show on a pretty big radio station. For the last six years I have tried to teach people to turn off HTML email in their email client, i.e. Outlook.

    There are two reasons. One is personal. The other has everything to do with security.

    As an example, today there was an on going story of a hacker that hacked the Miami Dolphins Stadium web site. The reason is because it is getting so much traffic this second day before the Super Bowl.

    The hack was a javascript link the downloaded a trojan from a server in China. All this happened to the user without their knowledge.

    That said, the average user still cannot tell which emails to delete and what not to click on, therefore, many times infecting themselves.

    Or, how about those eBay phishing emails that look exactly like an official eBay web page. The common user cannot tell the difference.

    HTML email may look nice, but it is a hazard to the user that can’t tell the good from the bad. And there are more of those users then there are of us geeks.

    Companies that send HTML email are more interested in sending magazine covers via email. That is what their web site is for. All that is needed is a link in a well formatted text email.

  5. Jonathan says:

    @Mike: Interesting point, but I feel that the HTML vs plaintext debate is somewhat irrelevant where phishing and spam is concerned. If companies such as ebay sent out plaintext emails to their customers, then phishers would too. The average user would still find it equally difficult to differentiate between a legitimate and nefarious email.

  6. RH says:

    Martin Hinshelwood,
    Not true. Customers who sign up for useful email newsletters, order confirmations, etc. want those emails to be nicely formated and easily readable. One of the ways that is done is through the use of html formating.

    When I explicity sign up for the latest news on something I want a nice looking email. I enjoy well placed images etc. For legitimate opt in and double opt in consumers this could lower the quality of their experience. they might not actualy go gee I wish outlook supported better rendering. But they will notice when things look crudy.

  7. Zach Katkin says:

    I couldn’t agree more… this is total BS. I can’t believe that made a large (but still not complete) standards push for IE7 and yet completely omitted it from Outlook.

  8. Ty says:

    “The only people who care about Outlook 2007 using Word to render its emails, and the loss of the aforementioned features are designers and developer. Not USERS!” – Martin Hinshelwood

    Not true. I care and I’m not a “designer” or “developer”. I’m a “user”.

  9. david says:

    @Mike:

    Javascript is a different problem altogether. Most people would be better off with Javascript disabled in email.

    CSS and other rendering back peddling that Microsoft did in Outlook 2007 is another matter. I don’t see any value in sticking with an inferior rendering engine.

    Having said that, as both a “designer” and “user”, I personally prefer more simple formatted emails. :)

  10. Jackal says:

    Are there seriously people DEFENDING this? SERIOUSLY?

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