Wednesday, January 10, 2007

HTML on Outlook 2007

I received a newsletter from Sitepoint and was quite surprised (and then laughing) after looking at their headline (HTML on Outlook 2007). Here's the content of the news:

If support for web standards in browsers is improving slowly,
then support in email clients is moving at a glacial pace.
Attempts to document things like CSS support in the major email
clients [1] have revealed a depressing state of affairs, but
with recent desktop clients like Thunderbird [2] now sitting on
solid rendering engines, things have been looking up.

All that changed when Microsoft dropped a lump of coal into
every web developer's stocking with the end-of-year release to
business customers, and the upcoming consumer release, of
Outlook 2007 [3].

At the risk of turning this newsletter into a biweekly Microsoft
bash, Redmond has done it again. While the IE team was soothing
the tortured souls of web developers everywhere with the new,
more compliant Internet Explorer 7, the Office team pulled a
fast one, ripping out the IE-based rendering engine that Outlook
has always used for email, and replacing it with ... drum roll
please ... Microsoft Word.

That's right. Instead of taking advantage of Internet Explorer
7, Outlook 2007 uses the very limited support for HTML and CSS
that is built into Word 2007 to display HTML email messages.

Having tested the two public beta versions of Outlook 2007 late
last year, I knew there was something screwy going on. Many of
the newsletters I subscribed to had become unreadable, and
SitePoint's own publications (including the Tech Times) were
looking decidedly unhealthy. I dutifully reported these
rendering issues with the feedback mechanisms provided in the
beta, and wrote them off as Internet Explorer 7 integration
issues that would be resolved in the final release.

But late last month, a thread in the SitePoint Forums [4] caught
my eye. Microsoft had published a pair of articles [5] describing
the support for HTML and CSS in Outlook 2007, and the news wasn't

"Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 uses the HTML parsing and
rendering engine from Microsoft Office Word 2007 to display HTML
message bodies. The same HTML and cascading style sheets (CSS)
support available in Word 2007 is available in Outlook 2007."

The limitations imposed by Word 2007 are described in detail in
the article, but here are a few highlights:

- no support for background images (HTML or CSS)

- no support for forms

- no support for Flash, or other plugins

- no support for CSS floats

- no support for replacing bullets with images in unordered

- no support for CSS positioning

- no support for animated GIFs

In short, unless your HTML emails are very, very simple, you're
going to run into problems with Outlook 2007, and in most cases
the only solution to those problems will be to reduce the
complexity of your HTML email design to accommodate Outlook's
limited feature set.

With the release of Outlook 2007, Microsoft is effectively
adding an entirely new rendering engine to the mix--one
that designers producing HTML email will not be able to ignore.

Not only that, but this new rendering engine isn't any better
than that which Outlook previously used--indeed, it's far
worse. With this release, Outlook drops from being one of the
best clients for HTML email support to the level of Lotus Notes
and Eudora, which, in the words of Campaign Monitor's David
Grenier [6], "are serial killers making our email design lives

Why on earth would Microsoft do such a thing? Security?
Microsoft has been shouting from the rooftops about the new
security model in Internet Explorer 7 that prevents the nasty
security issues that have plagued Outlook in the past. It seems
Microsoft doesn't buy its own publicity, however, because this
move sends the message that Internet Explorer's security model
is not to be trusted.

Where to from here? Well, as a first step, you'll want to use
Microsoft's handy-dandy tool [7] to tell you which parts of your
lean, mean HTML emails need to be replaced with old-fashioned
HTML sludge. As a second step, you may want to consider giving
your Outlook-based readers an easy way to switch to text-only

Bring on PDF email. I'm ready.

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It's a major drawbacks since IE7 has become better (NOT the best, but better) in HTML rendering than previous version and the IE team has worked to get most of CSS and HTML standards implemented in correct way in IE7 and finally Outlook team dump them.