Sourced from arstechnica.com
By Jeremy Reimer | Published: January 15, 2007 – 10:53AM CT
A major change to the way Outlook 2007 renders email has created quite a stir online, and Microsoft’s plans have largely been met with derision and critique.
The change, which is explained in detail on Microsoft’s site, involved decoupling Outlook 2007 from Internet Explorer’s HTML rendering engine. Instead, Outlook will use Word 2007’s HTML viewer, which is an incomplete rendering engine missing a few features previously supported by the IE engine. The end result is that e-mails that use certain advanced HTML and CSS features will be somewhat degraded in appearance in Outlook 2007, yet they will look fine in earlier versions of Outlook. One benefit is that this will make Outlook email more secure by making it impossible to hook potential IE exploits via email. Dud, or stud?
The controversy started with an article on CampaignMonitor.com which asserts that Microsoft has “taken e-mail back five years.” The post features a side-by-side comparison of a typical HTML e-mail, and the comparison makes it look as if Outlook 2007 is unable to do CSS altogether. We always like to perform our own verification, so I took the fanciest graphical e-mail I had in my inbox and tested it out on both Outlook Express (renamed Windows Mail in Vista) and Outlook 2007:
The main issues that are immediately obvious are the lack of a background image for the main text (this makes it quite hard to read) and some alignment issues, which are no doubt due to the missing CSS features mentioned in the Microsoft documentation. It is easy to see why the folks at CampaignMonitor, who make a living selling software that sends out fancy-looking newsletters via e-mail, would be upset at this change. And they correctly note that this problem could make advanced HTML email trickier for marketers and other people who need or like to use HTML email.
Microsoft’s says that the change actually introduces stability in the end user experience, for previous versions of Outlook would render emails differently based on what version of IE was installed on a local system. With the new version, even if certain HTML and CSS features are not available, at least the appearance will be standardized. To help web developers, Microsoft has released plugins for SharePoint Designer 2007, Microsoft Expression Web Designer 2007, Microsoft Visual Studio 2005, Macromedia Dreamweaver MX 2004, and Macromedia Dreamweaver 8. These plugins allow the user to check to see what e-mail will look like in Outlook 2007 before it is sent.
As Outlook is typically installed on business clients, versus Outlook Express which is more common in the home, this move makes some sort of sense. However, it is a bit appalling that Microsoft can’t manage to implement full HTML and CSS functionality within Word, considering that they already possess the technology and code to do so. Security considerations—which might explain the lack of support for HTML forms in e-mails, for example—do not really justify not having full CSS formatting features.
Of course, there are those who still believe that any HTML in e-mail is excessive and gaudy, and they may have a valid point. With e-mail, less is often more, and in the age of unstoppable spam, keeping the message short and simple is one way to ensure it actually gets read.