Sour Outlook

It’s outrageous that the CSS standard created in 1996 is not properly supported in Outlook 2010. Let’s do something about it.

Hundreds of millions use Microsoft Internet Explorer to access the web, and Microsoft Outlook to send and receive email. As everyone reading this knows, the good news is that in IE8, Microsoft has released a browser that supports web standards at a high level. The shockingly bad news is that Microsoft is still using the Word rendering engine to display HTML email in Outlook 2010.

What does this mean for web designers, developers, and users? In the words of the “Let’s Fix It” project created by the Email Standards Project, Campaign Monitor, and Newism, it means exactly this:

[F]or the next 5 years your email designs will need tables for layout, have no support for CSS like float and position, no background images and lots more. Want proof? Here’s the same email in Outlook 2000 & 2010.

It’s difficult to believe that in 2009, after diligently improving standards support in IE7 and now IE8, Microsoft would force email designers to use nonsemantic table layout techniques that fractured the web, squandered bandwidth, and made a joke of accessibility back in the 1990s.

Accounting for stupidity

For a company that claims to believe in innovation and standards, and has spent five years redeeming itself in the web standards community, the decision to use the non-standards-compliant, decades-old Word rendering engine in the mail program that accompanies its shiny standards-compliant browser makes no sense from any angle. It’s not good for users, not good for business, not good for designers. It’s not logical, not on-brand, and the very opposite of a PR win.

Rumor has it that Microsoft chose the Word rendering engine because its Outlook division “couldn’t afford” to pay its browser division for IE8. And by “couldn’t afford” I don’t mean Microsoft has no money; I mean someone at this fabulously wealthy corporation must have neglected to budget for an internal cost. Big companies love these fictions where one part of the company “pays” another, and accountants love this stuff as well, for reasons that make Jesus cry out anew.

But if the rumor’s right, and if the Outlook division couldn’t afford to license the IE8 rendering engine, there are two very simple solutions: use Webkit or Gecko. They’re both free, and they both kick ass.

Why it matters

You may hope that this bone-headed decision will push millions of people into the warm embrace of Opera, Safari, Chrome, and Firefox, but it probably won’t. Most people, especially most working people, don’t have a choice about their operating system or browser. Ditto their corporate email platform.

Likewise, most web designers, whether in-house, agency, or freelance, are perpetually called upon to create HTML emails for opt-in customers. As Outlook’s Word rendering engine doesn’t support the most basic CSS layout tools such as float, designers cannot use our hard-won standards-based layout tools in the creation of these mails—unless they and their employers are willing to send broken messages to tens millions of Outlook users. No employer, of course, would sanction such a strategy. And this is precisely how self-serving decisions by Microsoft profoundly retard the adoption of standards on the web. Even when one Microsoft division has embraced standards, actions by another division ensure that millions of customers will have substandard experiences and hundreds of thousands of developers still won’t get the message that our medium has standards which can be used today.

So it’s up to us, the community, to let Microsoft know how we feel.

Participate in the Outlook’s Broken project. All it takes is a tweet.

[tags]browsers, bugs, IE8, outlook, microsoft, iranelection[/tags]

93 thoughts on “Sour Outlook

  1. On the humorous side it will mean that HTML-spam emails will look as craptastic as they really are…

  2. This is a really bad approach but can’t we just ignore the new Outlook and use standards anyways?

    After a year of hideous e-mails you’d think people would stop using it.

    We can certainly come at the problem from a high up level and target Microsoft (as we usually do) and watch nothing happen. If there’s no money, there’s no money (if you believe that) and I’d be shocked if they opened up the can of worms that is webkit after spending so long developing ie8.

    Maybe this is a more ground level fight.


  3. *facepalm*

    It amazes me beyond belief that a company (who is obviously cognizant of the real-world around them) can do something this stupid.

  4. Microsoft responded.

    We understand that e-mail is about interoperability among various e-mail programs, and we believe that Outlook provides a good mix of a rich user experience and solid interoperability with a wide variety of other e-mail programs. There is no widely-recognized consensus in the industry about what subset of HTML is appropriate for use in e-mail for interoperability.

    I really don’t know what to say. All I can do is yell and curse, but what’s the point?

  5. It’s just incredible that a company like MS can continue to ignore web standards like this. They know what web standards are. They know what an important position they hold. I don’t pay a cent for Thunderbird, yet Mozilla doesn’t cry poor, so why does one of the richest companies on earth cite money as an issue? It surely is not an issue of money. Sigh…

  6. If it was a matter of one division not being able to pay another, wtf?! Let\’s each chip in a dollar so the Office Division can get their crap together.

    I remember when Microsoft first tried to justify the rendering engine switch with Outlook 2007. One would have thought they\’d have learned from the feedback they received back then…

  7. I just don’t understand it. I’m a .Net developer so I fall into the MS camp.
    You would think that with all of the cool things companies are doing with HTML and CSS that MS would go out of their way to say “Look, us too!”

    I may build my apps with MS technologies but lately I am looking elsewhere for my inspiration.

  8. If I remember correctly the rendering engine of Outlook was switched away from IE and back to the other engine because of security issues. I think it has less to do with Microsoft’s attitude towards standards and more to do with security. People bitched and moaned about security problems with Outlook email and one of those concerns was the HTML rendering so they took care of the problem. Now people are complaining that they aren’t supporting standards. They just can’t win whatever their decision.

  9. I wanted to know why everyone was so mad about this, so I went and looked it up. According to 5 minutes on Google, here’s what’s missing from Word’s HTML/CSS implementation:

    1. You can’t use Flash or other plugins. No applets, no iframes, no JavaScript. Thank GOD.
    2. The q tag isn’t supported for some reason. kbd and samp work (samp? really?) but there’s no q.
    3. You can’t include a form or any input elements. But you CAN use fieldsets and textareas, which is just bizarre.
    4. There’s no support for background images. That’s lame, but at least background colors still work. (And since images are blocked by default anyway, I can’t get too worked up about this one.)
    5. You’re stuck with the standard HTML bullets – no images. (But, again, see #4.)
    6. The :active and :hover pseudoclasses don’t work.
    7. Animated .gif images don’t animate. This one definitely blows, and it has impacted me personally on several occasions. (On the other hand, see #4.)
    8. There’s no support for CSS positioning, and you can’t use floats.
    9. The img tag does not support the alt attribute.

    I’d really like for animated .gifs to work, but honestly, the only item that really, deeply bothers me is #9. I don’t use Outlook anymore, but I don’t see anything else on that list that I’d miss if I were sitting down to write someone an email. And I’m pretty confident saying that, because I’ve been using Gmail for years, and until I decided to see what all the fuss was about, I had no idea that Gmail doesn’t support CSS positioning, floats, or background images either.

    It’s really not clear to me why the web standards community is so alarmed, or why this three-year-old decision is viewed as a step back for standards adoption. If you want to get angry, get angry about the god-awful HTML that Word generates, or its weird Office-specific extensions. Get angry about the absolutely unacceptable broken alt attribute on images. Believe me, I’ll be right behind you with my pitchfork. But people are taking issue with the way Outlook displays email, not the way it sends it, and that seems completely backwards.

    Or at least it did, until I realized that the Let’s Fix It project was created by people in the “email marketing campaign” industry. Mystery solved.

  10. One solution I thought of, is some something similar to the ‘doctype switch’ that was used in the past to trigger standards mode vs quirks mode. What if there was some element (such as a meta tag) that we could add to our HTML emails that would let Outlook know, “Hey I want you to use the Trident rendering engine for this email”.

    Perhaps something like:
    meta http-equiv=”rendering-engine” content=”trident”

    If that element was absent then it would fall back to using the MS Word rendering engine.

    I realize that this is an “opt-in” solution but to the average user they would never know the difference. MS could also leave the default email setting set to MS Word mode.

  11. The funniest (most ironic maybe) thing about this is that I remember a time not too long ago (maybe a ear or less) when Mr. Zeldman was staunchly apposed to Email Marketing… odd how the foes turn into friends when new foes appear!

  12. I think everyone has good points, except maybe the Outlook 2010 team post which seems to miss the point of web standards completely.

    Use Word to create your emails – great! We just want consistent rendering of content (within reason).

    As to Campaign Monitor being a marketing stunt, well, that’s good business. I do think they mean it though. I use their product above others partially because they do a lot of things right and also simply because they support standards as much as they can because it is better for us all. More power to them for taking an initiative since I’d rather they did it than some of the other vendors out there. It’s not like Zeldman didn’t get more love/business/cookies out of his early years pushing the Web Standards Project in the long run – again, it helped his business and ours too. This is no different, whether you care about Campaign Monitor or not.

    Here I was joyfully watching IE6 stats drop on all my sites, yet I may have to keep making a Frankenstien of old web markup for any email projects. I’m mostly surprised that the catch-up the IE team has had to do hasn’t spread. This is just bad business.

  13. The reason they are using Word rendering engine to render HTML emails is that they are using that same Word engine as the email editor. It is craptastic alright.

  14. One solution I thought of, is some something similar to the ‘doctype switch’ that was used in the past to trigger standards mode vs quirks mode…
    Even if Word had full standards support and the ability to flip back and forth, it’s not clear what should happen when I quote a quirks-mode message in a standards-mode email.

    Copy and paste would be an absolute minefield, too.

  15. @Steve Friends & foes in email marketing aye? The point is that HTML email marketing is here to stay, whether people like it/agree with it or not and if that’s the case then please let’s just have some rendering standards.

    Zeldman’s right on the money with the incumbency of systems whereby employers, offices & their systems offer no choice but the bundled Email client which uses a word processor with built-in HTML clunk. Again, at least if people have no choice then give them a decent common denominator.

    And as for the “oh, boo hoo” type quips against being able to, for instance, float an image with padding & margin – that is one of the most basic processes in text & imagery layout, so if Word can’t handle that correctly then it shows a complete disdain for the fundamentals.

    It’s incredible how, here at the end of the first decade of the twenty first century, we should be even having this discussion. Where’s the guy who wants to eradicate malaria, maybe he could do something good for HTML email mankind? Oh wait…

  16. Using Word as the main editor for emails can not be the reason for using Word as rendering engine. For if you use IE, you can use its richtext-editor for editing.

    As for security issues: Removing javascript and s should pose no insurmountable problems.

  17. Maybe they have a huge library of table-oriented email templates that they have been using for years, and cannot change because it is not in their Outlook department’s budget.

  18. As a designer I’m tired of having to cater for a lack of CSS/HTML standards in email clients. The response above from M$ in response to over 20,000 users’ protest at the lack of web standards compliance in Outlook 2010 is extremely dissapointing.

    Yes, CampaignMonitor is a commerical company. And yes, there’s no doubt that they’ve benefited from the exposure. But let’s face it – if M$ had listened to the community and engaged with them earlier through projects like to promote better web standards compliance, this campaign would never have been started. M$ only have themselves to blame.

    It’s time people started voting with their feet. Unless people stop buying products that move web standards back rather than forward, companies like M$ will continue to make broken software and come out with blinkered, fudged excuses.

    OpenOffice is an excellent product and replicates most of M$ Office’s ‘functionality’ (*cough*) the average user needs. Open, free, and far less bloated:

    However, OpenOffice doesn’t currently contain an email client. For a really good email client that has excellent web standards support, try Thunderbird. I’ve used Outlook for over ten years and Thunderbird is a real breath of fresh air.

    No doubt, M$ Office will continue to dominate the business market for some time to come, and designers will continue grinding their teeth in frustration at having to factor in broken email clients such as Outlook. But unless we as users demonstrate that enough is enough, the status quo will never change.

  19. @Blake: Loss of business is the only thing that really gets a big company’s attention. Alas, given the size of Microsoft’s market, even if every web developer on earth refused to buy the next version of Office, it wouldn’t make a significant dent in their sales. (It would be like losing the left-handed vegan accordionist market.)

    On the other hand, PR does matter to this company. Smart, dedicated people work there, and the media equivalent of trash talk hurts them as it would hurt you and me. If the trash talk is based in fact, and if it spreads to enough key media outlets, it could stimulate a strategic meeting at the top that would allow the Outlook team to do what the members of that team have probably been fighting internally for the right to do anyway.

    I urge people who can argue this issue intelligently and who have readers and followers to carry the torch. (Olympic torch, not angry villager torch.)

  20. There is no widely-recognized consensus in the industry about what subset of HTML is appropriate for use…

    What rubbish. Why then, do HTML emails look absolutely fine in Apple Mail, Thunderbird, Gmail etc? Why can I look at a HTML email on my iPhone and have it look perfect, but not on my desktop PC?

    I’ve got your subset right here: HTML. CSS. No JavaScript. No Flash. No video. The last thing I want is my email singing and dancing in my inbox.

    If your users are outraged about your decision, then you made the wrong decision.

  21. I was going to go visit the “Outlook’s Broken Project” website, but I couldn’t afford to pay myself for the time to do it.

  22. I wonder how useful a campaign reliant on twitter will be… I know its becoming very popular, and the coverage of the Iranian elections shows its ability to capture mass social movements quickly, but it’s also limited by its userbase, and Twitter does have a pretty bad fall off rate for new users.

    Plus I’d imagine MS would happily discount numbers based on something external to itself like Twitter. (I have tried commenting on the offending blog, but none of them have been published.)

    That said, I am a twitter fan, I have tweeted several times already on it, and feel very strongly about this issue – I find it unbelievable that MS will try and take some moral high ground on html web standards.

    And really, when ESP have been so kind as to provide MS with a list of html / css features that should be included, and even prioritised the list for them… I mean they’re practically doing their job for them!

  23. I spent a couple years behind the desk at an email marketing company, where I learned all about click thru, bounce rates, conversions, and other metrics that only managers and execs care about.

    My job was to take their psd and somehow turn it into an email the could be read in Hotmail, AOL, Yahoo, etc, and finally the dreaded Outlook 2007!

    All of the sturm und drang made over Outlook 2010 is a repeat from a few years ago and the only things that have changed are how we build emails.

    Don’t lose your HTML 1 chops, fellas.

  24. MS does make a decent point, though. Outlook is mostly a closed system—the majority of email Outlook sends will hit other Outlook users in the same organization (spam aside). Within an Outlook-only environment, where everyone’s using the Word rendering engine, you do get some advantages (advantages people using standards-based email clients won’t see or get, of course). Business users might miss those or complain about their absence.

    Then again, there’s no reason Outlook couldn’t support both.

  25. I don’t think that standards in email is just about what is supported–it needs to be about how those things are supported as well. GMail only understands inline CSS. Better than no CSS support at all, but far from a standards-based approach. The fact that it has CSS support is great, but consistency in support is important too.

    I’m disappointed that MS didn’t use Outlook 2010 as a way to showcase their commitment to web standards but am not surprised. It took two sub-par versions of IE to get us to IE8, so maybe it will take two sub-par versions of Outlook to bring us a decent version–maybe Outlook 2015?

  26. Why wasn’t this campaign started when this actually started, with Outlook 2007, well over two years ago?

    I mean, yeah, it’s annoying, but it’s old news. We’ve been designing down to Outlook ’07’s crappy rendering engine for years now. Nothing new here. :-(

    (Side note: I assumed the reason to use the Word HTML rendering engine was to ensure that emails would be received looking the same as they were composed when used within pure-Outlook environments … of which there are plenty.)

  27. There are a couple concerns/questions that come to mind for me:

    1) Even if 2010 supports a different rendering engine, don’t we still have to consider Outlook 2007 and even 2003 at least for 4-5 more years?

    2) Does anyone have a good way of measuring which email client/version being used?

    My whole office, apart from the web team (who luckily use Mac/, still use Office/Outlook 2003 in 2009. I am guessing we are not the only ones, considering that Office 2003 still gets the job done for our office. My point is, that there are millions of people who have not and may not upgrade anytime soon because there is no reason to besides a fancy new “ribbon” UI.

    While I support the ideas of fixing Outlook, aren’t we are still probably some years off from every MS product in the “wild” being able to support more HTML standards?

  28. Lame and disappointing campaign execution.

    While I agree with the cause, using Twitter Corporation’s proprietary service as the only means for an internet user to submit feedback is just as bad/backward as using HTML tables in Outlook. That’s like, um, forcing people to use Microsoft Corporation’s technology (READ: Outlook) as the sole means to manage email communication.

    So let’s see: No web site feedback form was constructed for this cause. Meaning, that no web designer was hired to design a form—even a (gasp!) table-based one!, CSS out an email and/or contact page, etc., to collect the data, nor were any database professionals used to set up a system to parse the collected feedback and organize/collate for the organizers. Nope. Just passed off to a single company: Twitter—that you are stuck having to use as the sole means to communicate this campaign via the (open?) web. This is so late 1990’s when ‘AOL Keyword: National Geographic’ was on the cover of that pretty yellow magazine instead of the more sensible and open ‘’ they use now. Backward we go… just like Outlook 2010.

    There is nothing wrong with using Twitter as an additional means, like Facebook, etc. to communicate and enhance a web site. But it should not be the only means, just like using IE should not be the only means to access the web.

    Count me out of this one.

    “Let’s Fix it”: Make your campaign more open standard and usable for people that don’t use or wish to use one single company’s technology to communicate via the internet.

  29. @Chris Lee:

    If you support the cause but not the means, why not blog about the issue, as I have done?

    By the way, much of the early work of The Web Standards Project consisted of writing petitions and encouraging our fellow designers and developers to sign them … and then showing the resulting signatures to Microsoft and Netscape.

    The “Fix Outlook” Project is using Twitter as a faster, more effective, up-to-date version of getting signatures on a petition. I consider that smart—and Microsoft is listening, even if its initial answer is predictably political and corporate.

    Ain’t nothing wrong with using Twitter to do what Twitter does well. But if you prefer to agitate for this cause by other means, go for it.

  30. Hmm… when I tried to access this page through IE8, I was told that it wasn’t allowed.

    Error 403
    We’re sorry, but we could not fulfill your request for /2009/06/24/sour-outlook/ on this server.

    You do not have permission to access this server.

    Your technical support key is: 18ad-9616-17f4-e8c8

    You can use this key to fix this problem yourself.

    If you are unable to fix the problem yourself, please contact jeffrey at and be sure to provide the technical support key shown above.

    Sour about IE8?

  31. Paul Redmond hit the nail on the head, but I have another point to add.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I think email serves one purpose, and it has nothing to do with design. Who wants to download a bunch of images and stuff when the purpose should’ve beeen to get a simple message across? I realize it’s silly for MS to support standards in one product, but not in another. However, looking at the big picture, I am glad they chose to support standards in IE8 instead of Outlook! It would have probably taken a significant amount (enough to postpone the projected release date) of extra work to incorporate standards into Outlook, otherwise I think they would’ve done it. They likely made a business decision to let it slide, probably on the assumption that the majority of HTML formatted emails are junk anyways (which is almost true).

    If you want to show me some fancy combination of HTML and CSS, there’s a different protocol for that; keep that shit out of my inbox.

    Plain text emails FTW!

  32. @Jeffrey Zeldman:

    I agree the MS corporate is listening. And I hope that they do finally fix the Outlook issues that cause us to run to Home Depot every other week to purchase a large can of wall Spackle to repair the holes in our office walls from beating our heads against when designing HTML newsletters.

    I actually don’t think Twitter does a whole lot well, but is a popular outlet right now currently just as AOL keywords were the big thing back in the day in lieu of an open web communication medium called URLs. It’s not the popular view these days, since Ashton and Oprah and Cousin Biffo in Florida are tweeting away on their new Wal-Mart 140-character $99 iphone platforms of the internet. As you can tell, I have some serious concerns about what the 140-character Twitter Corporate methodology is going to do to the quality, quantity, and openness of the web as a universal and non-proprietary platform. I think that we tread dangerous territory in using one company’s technology exclusively to launch an open web campaign, that’s all. I feel the same about FBML ( Facebook’s markup language) taking over HTML, personal sites, blogs, etc. And the White House hosting official presidential videos on a single company’s (YouTube’s) servers—God help us all. My fear is that one day, the The Web Standards Project will be sponsored, owned, and brought to you by Hanna Montana.

    Perhaps Twitter is the way of the future. Perhaps one day it will be an AppleTwitterFacebookDisneyGooglized Haiku web, much like the U.S. has a few companies controlling almost all of traditional media. Perhaps it already is here now and I am just an old fart.

    However, this is not the place to debate the point and I definitely don’t want to lose focus on Outlook 2010’s serious threat to CSS in HTML newsletters—which I’m very glad you published info about here on these pages. I’ve always loved reading your site, especially that post your wrote ages ago to that dingleberry checking on the snowfall in NY.

    People will always find new ways to express themselves, launch campaigns, and use the written medium in ways that would make Gutenberg very proud indeed—even at 140 characters.


  33. All this fuss about Outlook, yet has anyone had a look at how Gmail destroys the formatting as well?

    Windows Live Mail (and Hotmail on the web) do a significantly better job of this.

    How many of the users that are targetted by nicely formatted HTML mails use Outlook vs (say) Lotus Notes or perhaps Gmail – which both do a much worse job of displaying the mail yet no-one seems to really care about because M$ are obviously evil.

    Long has an interesting post that puts it into perspective:

  34. I contacted a friend at MSFT to complain. Here’s his response:

    We are aware of the feedback and the product group is taking the feedback seriously. Those decisions are made by the product group and to be fair, they need to make decisions for features in next gen products based on the entire user base. Office has 500 million users so feature decisions need to take the entire base into account. Software development has always been a business of tradeoffs, so lets see how they respond and see if the feature that this group is looking for makes it into the next version or the one after that.

  35. @Mr Belm:

    Cool of you to write to your friend, and good of him to reply.

    Would you be willing to write to him once more?

    If you do, you might point out to your friend that Microsoft Entourage uses Webkit, so there’s a precedent for Microsoft products to use a browser rendering engine not developed at Microsoft.

    With Webkit replacing Word as a rendering engine, standards-compliant mails would render with a high degree of accuracy in Outlook, yet Outlook users could still use Word to *create* new HTML mails (and those mails would also display correctly in Webkit).

    Win, win.

    And there would be very little development time involved.

  36. Is this an issue involving web-standards or a web-standards issue?
    I agree this is bonehead on Microsoft’s part. It doesn’t make sense.
    But this isn’t a bid by Microsoft to foster some proprietary standard on the rest of the world. Being laggardly, even incompetent, isn’t a capital offense.
    By all means let’s bitch about it, does it dilute the brand so to speak, by making too big an issue out of a comparatively small thing?
    I’m not sure.
    Just my 2 cents.

  37. @Richard Fink:

    I hear what you’re saying, agree that it’s boneheadedness and not an attempt to foist a proprietary standard on the world, and further agree that there’s some danger of diluting the standards message if I or other standards advocates appear to be treating this instance of incompetence as a 9/11-style conspiracy. I trust we are not perceived as doing that.

    That said, I’d argue this:

    There are many, many developers out there who haven’t heard of web standards, or don’t understand how they really work, or don’t understand the immense value in widespread adoption of lean, semantic markup, CSS layout, and unobtrusive scripting.

    Every task and every tool that encourages the adoption of standards is an opportunity for these people to hear the good news and change their way of working, thus helping millions to a better web experience.

    Conversely, a task that can’t be accomplished with standards because an email platform used by millions is ten years behind the web standards curve is a missed chance for these developers to see the light, an opportunity for Luddites or those with proprietary agendas to claim that standards don’t matter, and a pain in the neck for the rest of us who already use standards to do our coding.

    Thus it is not trivial.

    To others here: You can personally dislike HTML mail, personally refuse to opt in to HTML mailing lists, and personally avoid using Microsoft products, but none of that changes the influence of Microsoft’s sheer Leviathan girth on the speed with which standards are adopted or ignored.

  38. @Chris Lee
    I would have to say AOL keywords aren’t equivalent to Twitter. It’s simple:

    AOL keywords required AOL, which was essentially a customized piece of software tied to a set of online services. You had to install it onto your OS. Signing up required a credit card, which is to me sets a service well beyond easy entry.

    Twitter runs in a browser, which we all have. You don’t have to install anything extra and signing up is as streamlined as it could be. Plus, AOL never had any third party add-ons that used keywords.

    The Email Standards Campaign began when Outlook 2007 hit the market some years ago. This is their way of turning up the heat on this, all the more reason to use the hot trendy Twitter as well.

    In all of the discussion nobody seems to have mentioned the slick use of Twitter avatars for the background page of Let’s Fix it. I thought it was a nice mini-site.

  39. @Robert, Campaign Monitor actually was beating the drum about Outlook 2007 when it was released. Because Outlook 2010 doesn’t seem to improve on this situation, it makes sense to get even louder, especially because Outlook 2010 hasn’t been released yet. There’s still time for Microsoft to fix it.

    And yes, Outlook isn’t the only “bad” email client out there when it comes to dealing with HTML + CSS. Gmail could do a ton better, too. (And don’t get me started on Notes.) But the recent news is about Outlook sticking to a rendering engine that has lackluster support for basic CSS properties in an upcoming release. So it makes sense to focus energy there.

  40. There is no widely-recognized consensus in the industry about what subset of HTML is appropriate for use in e-mail for interoperability.

    Which is not as if there never was an attempt at providing standards for emails, see The minutes of the W3C HTML Mail Workshop that dates back from 2007. I do not remember seeing many people there. We were less than twenty attendees. Where were all the influencers back then? Where were the MS Outlook team back then? The organisers would have loved to see email client teams as big as Outlook’s come and say what their needs were.

    At the time when Outloon 2007 went out I kind of remember that someone (Molly?) mentioned somewhere that the Outlook team used Word because of its spellchecking features, among other Word-specific features.

    I don’t know, I have a mixed and sour feeling about all this indeed.

  41. There is no widely-recognized consensus in the industry about what subset of HTML is appropriate for use in e-mail for interoperability.

    How about (X)HTML and CSS? Those are standards.

    Thanks to the work of web standards evangelists, there’s a widely recognized consensus in the industry that properly supported (X)HTML, CSS, and JavaScript—mapping to structure, appearance, and behavior—are the appropriate tools for websites.

    Remove JavaScript (because behavior doesn’t belong in mail) and you have the appropriate tools for (opt-in) styled mail.

  42. @Jeffrey Zeldman
    agree that there’s some danger of diluting the standards message if I or other standards advocates appear to be treating this instance of incompetence as a 9/11-style conspiracy. I trust we are not perceived as doing that.
    I hope so, to0.
    One good thing that’s come from all the hoopla is commentators and analysts from all over suddenly taking a close, hard look at standards support in other email clients, as well.
    Would the story have gone viral if the product was named Arnie’s Best Webmail? No, of course not. But the web and its millions of responding voices takes care of “fairness” quite well, on it’s own.

  43. @Richard Fink:

    The story would not have gone viral if the “culprit” had not been Microsoft. On the other hand, when in the past ten years has the culprit not been Microsoft?

  44. @Jeffrey Zeldman
    Yeah. It’s a circular catch-22 kind of thing when discussing Microsoft, isn’t it.
    Well, they’re big boys (and girls), it comes with the territory.

  45. For the record there’s a debrief on the Fix Outlook protest from the authors at Campaign Monitor:

    Their post shows that this has hit several online news outlets and has indeed made the needed bigger splash that the Outlook 2007 outcry did not.

    Some info on the campaign microsite itself (by newism) is also there if anyone is interested in the nifty Twitter API integration.

    Fix Outlook hubbub, Farrah and MJ dead — what a week…

  46. There’s one guarantee here. Even with the hundreds of comments on their post, and the thousands of tweets, Microsoft will still blissfully ignore the voice of the community.

    They are just too big to care. When we see an MS rep honestly respond to this feedback and not issue canned responses, then I’ll perk up. Until then, we’re forced to code like its 1999.

  47. Innovation & Web Standards do not describe Microsoft’s online stance. The team leader of the Outlook 2010 project should be held accountable and explain the decision.


    Office is pretty much 50% of microsofts revenue. Now they’re loosing so badly against google and on the internet in general expect to see much greater manipulation of their monopoly position within the desktop installed app environment. This is one move in a checkered history of many moves to prevent users from having REAL choice, whilst claiming they are delivering real choice!

    Older less mentally agile end users and corporate IT mobs, love the whole MS approach to networks, citrix and the whole convoluted Microsoft stable of software. It keeps them in business and it keeps them in the money, for ever patching, fixing, reghosting and basically maintaining crap which keeps dying of registry Alzheimers.

    I think a better approach would be to sniff Outlook Email clients – and then send a much simplified email to those users – stating

    “Your currently not entitled to see the rich visual version of this email because you are using software which does not support the latest rich visual technologies,

    Click here to view the email the way it was intended – using “latest visual” technology. OR upgrade your email program to a modern email program such as Thunderbird OR Mac Mail

    By sticking to their old tricks of focussing on monopoly control vs innovation creation, they ultimately loose, but it will take another 20 years for this dinosaur to totally crash.

    They’ve Lost the innovation in Mobile
    They’ve Lost the search innovation battle
    They’ve Lost the web server battle

    Ultimately they’re the ones shooting themselves, :) which means a quicker end to their proprietary unfriendly approach.

    Its like their Ad Strategies

    “Your Potential Our Passion” – LETS JUST ADD A WORD HERE SHALL WE

    “Your Payment Potential – Our Passion”

    Outlook 2010 is just another cynical Business Move.

    I think we should focus on converting 2 friends each, to stop using Windows, and start using Linux or MAC.

    OR at worst, stop using IE and Outlook and start Using Firefox and Thunderbird.

    The only reason IE6 is still being maintained by Mircosoft – is they know full well 50% of all users that upgrade from IE6 leave IE altogether and goto an alternative browser. :)

    RIP Microsoft – as the current company has NO SOUL and cannot be considered “alive”.

  49. Email is not the web. RFC 822 applies. As do the MIME RFCS.

    Web standards do not apply to email.

  50. Tyler Butler’s additional comment is a nice contribution to the discussion. I’ve wondered just how convoluted the Outlook/Office code base is that doing what we’re asking is no small task. Windows/Office has had a huge security deficit for a long time that is continually patched and revised but never eradicated due to all the functionality that Office has to maintain. That probably means changing the rendering engine in Outlook is a programmers nightmare unless they’re starting over from scratch. I don’t think the business numbers are going to support that.

    Still, I’m hoping for some kind of acknowledgement or commitment to resolving what is going to be a huge problem going forward, at least for Outlook users not restricted to intranet communication. Transparency about supporting standard features is good PR. Showing good judgement and leadership is good PR. I guess what we need is good PR.

    We’d all probably be happier if Microsoft would publicly agree that email needs to be standardized even in it’s current state and at least explain that they can’t do it now, but will.

    The “rich experience” spin offered does a better job of saying “please use someone else’s products” since they are doing a better job with web standards.

    And I will. I’m a web professional, but I also oversee several networks that use Microsoft products. I’ve always tried to be platform agnostic as an admin, but my recommendations to my superiors are less and less favorable to Microsoft products due to their higher support costs and the simple fact that we don’t use 85% of the features we pay for. Office isn’t the only game in town and hasn’t been for years. We’re talking small companies here, so take this as in that context only.

    Email as a standard is as mess as senders can be spoofed so easily and has no security hooks at all. Improving it in any way is long overdue. I’m not a fan of HTML formatted emails, but we use them for more than annoying marketing for things like invitations, sharing photos (inline viewing), etc.

  51. I always thought MS implemented the Word engine because it believed most of its users actually composed their mails in Word before sending them. So for them, they could actually send a mail as they composed it, rather than start learning html and stuff to make up a “nice” mail.

    And I think I can even relate to that reasoning, apart from the fact it seriously screw us web developers over of course.

  52. I’ve always thought that the HTML e-mail feature set was too large – making it a viable method of advertising (a.k.a. SPAM!)

    There’s no real reason to support fonts. If the e-mail client has a nice default font, then using strong, em, and so on – the meaning can be conveyed.

    Can’t really get rid of links, people need those – boy would it be nice if we could. Attachments are necessary – but inline images probably aren’t.

    Inline images attract people to style their emails for marketing purposes, but people sharing photos can (and usually do) send them as attachments. Images are already restricted because they cause a visit to a particular URL, which can be identified for tracking purposes. I would like to see images removed from the “HTML Email Specification” – which apparently needs defining.

    *wonders if the W3C already defined it, but can’t be bothered to look*

  53. Well, Outlook 2007 does not really support CSS anyway, I designed and coded a Mailshot flyer in valid html and css and it worked fine in outlook 2000 and 2003 but in Outlook 2007 it was a complete and utter mess.

    Companies Such as Verticle Response have problems with outlook too, it’s one total shitter of a product.

  54. Basically whats going on here is that MS have a proprietry format for outlook-to-outlook. Which they are entirely entitled to retain. However, it should be just that, outlook-to-outlook ONLY. There is no reason they cannot detect and change the renderer based on the presence of a header(or lack thereof).

    Since they control the source information, in the case of outlook-to-outlook, they can (and may already) decorate the message with a creator header, in which case that is their queue to use Word as the renderer.

    In all other cases, why not just use IE, Webkit or Gecko, anything other than word !!!

    After all, lets face it, its rubbish at displaying standards compliant HTML (full or subset)

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