Getting ready for Outlook 2010

{title}While it isn’t officially released until June 15, we thought now might be a good time to prepare everyone for what they might expect when Outlook 2010 hits the shelves. It’s been quite the ride since we learned the latest version of Outlook, just like its predecessor, would be using Word to render HTML emails. Thanks to all of you, the fixoutlook.org campaign was hugely successful at putting this issue on Microsoft’s radar.

Microsoft said they were listening, but like most of us feared it was just too late in their development cycle for a change this significant to be made. Today I chatted with Dev Balasubramanian from the Outlook team to confirm if this was the case. Here’s what Dev had to say:

“At this point, our plans for email authoring and rendering in Outlook 2010 are unchanged. However, I can tell you that this is a significant topic of discussion as we plan our business going forward, and something we will definitely be thinking about for future releases of Outlook.”

This is definitely a good thing, and I can’t thank Dev enough for going on the record and letting me share it publicly. While future versions of Outlook will likely have far superior web standards support, where does that leave email designers today?

Accepting that the damage is done

Our latest email client stats (to be released shortly) gives Microsoft Outlook just over 35% share of the email client market, with Outlook 2007 taking up a quarter of this. Outlook is far and away the most popular email client on the market today. Further to this, Outlook 2007 usage grew 2.8% in 2009, while older versions of Outlook dropped 5.5%.

This shows a significant number of Outlook users have upgraded, and will likely continue this trend following the release of 2010. The Word rendering engine isn’t going anywhere.

Looking on the bright side

While this isn’t glowing news to report, our recent testing combined with the research others are doing indicates that the Outlook 2010 renderer is actually exactly the same as the one in Outlook 2007. This means you won’t need to make any significant changes to your current email templates or learn any new tricks of the trade.

For a good example of this, check out these test results done by the Litmus team comparing Outlook 2000, 2007 and 2010 using the acid test we put together for the Email Standards Project. As you can see, there isn’t any discernible difference between 2007 and 2010.

I also wanted to announce the availability of Outlook 2010 support in our design and spam testing feature.

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While the additional of this email client isn’t useful for diagnosing design issues, you now have the results to show clients and colleagues that you’ve got every email client covered.

Providing a fallback, but not relying on it

In their research, the Litmus team also managed to discover how to trigger an alert in Outlook 2010 encouraging the recipient to open the email in a browser if it’s displaying poorly (don’t get me started). Here’s what the alert looks like.

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It appears that if a span tag appears in your email body, or a CSS declaration involving a span appears in your stylesheet, Outlook will always display this message. Of course, the browser will do a much better job at rendering your email, but it’s not something we’d ever recommend relying on.

Even when a subscriber clicks this alert, they first see a security warning and then the email is opened in Internet Explorer, even if that isn’t the subscriber’s default web browser. Far from a pleasant experience.

Our advice

In light of this news, what should email designers be doing differently? To be honest, nothing. Do what you’ve always done: Keep your email simple, use tables for layout, inline your CSS and follow the other email design guidelines we’ve been pushing since Outlook 2007 was released.

Unfortunately, they’re going to come in handy for a lot longer than we wished.

Posted by David Greiner

43 Comments

  • Luc Pestille
    31st March

    It could have been worse I suppose, but why the fallback defaults to IE, rather than your default browser is going to annoy. When’s Outlook 20XX out again?

  • Chris Harrison
    31st March

    This is a sad development. I know I wasn’t alone in wishing Outlook 2k10 would show some positive changes, but I’m not surprised to be let down by Microsoft again. It’s nice to know changes *might* come in future versions, but those changes can’t come soon enough. There will now be three major releases of Outlook with this flawed renderer out in the wild. I fear these will be the email developer’s equivalent to IE6 for years to come (though, in this case, IE6 would be much, much preferred).

  • Sylvia McGrath
    31st March

    I have now been using the Beta version of Office 2010, for a little over three months and just love it all.  I did have a little problem with Outlook to start with.  I did send the feedback as requested and whether it was your team making the changes or this dummy being more proficient at getting around the programs; I am not sure.  I have always preferred Outlook to any other mail program and wonder how I ever managed everything without it.

    I thank you for giving me the opportunity to try the Beta version and will certainly buy the full program when it does come on the market.

  • frankenstein
    31st March

    2k10? Umm… that takes as many characters to write as 2010, but just makes you look silly.

  • G24
    31st March

    I am surprised by the calm and measured tone of the original post. Given that MS is about to utterly fail on delivering what was badly needed in Outlook 2010 message rendering, it deserves to be chastised severely, not praised!

    People buy Microsoft products regardless of how good they are and most who use Outlook either don’t have a choice or don’t know any different. MS should act responsibly - while shipping products with unknown or as yet undiscovered faults can almost be excused, shipping with severe deficiencies designed in to a product deliberately, really is inexcusable.

    I applaud the efforts of fixoutlook.org etc, but Microsoft has just stuck its fingers up at everyone. That’s not good, and it’s certainly not progress.

    Has anyone put a figure on how much Outlook and IE problems has cost them over the years?

  • Mike Bowzeylo
    31st March

    I’m sorry…but when I look at the Acid test screen shots, and their 10 year old email client does a much better job of rendering it than their newest product…all I can do is shake my head and laugh. (It figures…it’s MS).

    “At this point, our plans for email authoring and rendering in Outlook 2010 are unchanged.” really means “who cares about web standards…as long as it works with Microsoft’s products we’re golden”.

    G24 hits it on the head…to ship a product that deliberately sucks…is inexcusable. Now we need to wait another two or three years…and then all we’re promised is that it will be “a significant topic of discussion”.

  • Ralph
    31st March

    Gosh, what can I say? My blood is boiling over this disgraceful company and its continued ruination of the web. I wouldn’t buy Microsoft software if it were the last product on earth.

    “Microsoft said they were listening…” And laughing, no doubt. Maybe they need to get their ears checked, because the web standards tune has been trumpeting for a decade now.

  • Technology Story
    1st April

    The job is getting harder and harder to develop newsletter as there are so many email clients also versions available.

    I think the basic concept should be same so that one newsletter works perfectly in all email client and browsers.

  • Joanne Carry
    1st April

    Good news. It’s always best to keep designs as simple as possible; and nearly impossible to maximise your emails for every ESP. As always, Word seems to be an issue with all systems I use - and hard to explain to those who continue to use it to cut and paste into an email template.  ;o)

  • Scott Hardigree
    1st April

    This really sticks. I was hoping for FAR greater advancements.

  • Al
    1st April

    We are still using outlook 2003 at the office. Nuff said. This is an “upgrade” that is not going to get deployed either.

  • Daniel Errante
    1st April

    FAIL. When is Microsoft going to learn? When apple passes them up in revenue? http://techcrunch.com/2010/03/26/apple-microsoft-stock/
    ...or when they need a government bailout like our car companies producing crap products that no one wants anymore?

  • Joey Calamaro
    1st April

    I’ve been a web designer for nearly 15 years now and I just don’t get the approach Microsoft has taken in their intentional effort to destroy web standards. Sure, it makes sense that they want us to design stuff that only works in Microsoft land, however their obscure and ever changing Microsoft standards are impossible to target.

    So it’s not like I’m choosing between Microsoft’s way or the web standards way. Microsoft has no way. To me this approach seems far more like incompetence than a concerted effort to take out the competition.

    Microsoft needs to hurry up and define a standard that purposefully breaks sites in all other browsers. In effect, sites that work in Microsoft’s ecosystem simply won’t work anywhere else. Then they need to stick to this “standard” so developers don’t have to hack in support for all the obscure idiosyncrasies in the current Microsoft toolset.

    At least then I can design Microsoft compatible sites and standards compliant sites. The current fragmentation isn’t helping anyone.

  • Ian Davies
    1st April

    @Sylvia McGrath
    Uh… you do know that Campaign Monitor don’t actually make Outlook, right? Quite frankly, this is the last place you should be thanking anyone for that sad excuse for an email client.

  • wozza
    1st April

    Could be worse… could be gmail!

  • Mark Wyner
    1st April

    I really can’t back up any support for Microsoft. Their inability to make a sensible product is inexcusable and deserves no applause. They sugar coat everything with “we’re listening and we’ll consider what you have to say in the future.” Ultimately, however, they truly don’t care. Their one and only concern is making their suite of products work together at any cost, including making the web a better place for everyone.

    I hate to sound so negative and grim, but the fact that Microsoft really isn’t on our side is an undeniable truth. And given their power in the industry, they really don’t have to be. Which is highly unfortunate. We can only hope that people will begin wising up with a vote of no confidence, and switching to the array of far superior products on the market.

  • Marc
    1st April

    Nothing unexpected here. Has M$ EVER listened to what their users want? Nope. Will they listen to a bunch of designers complaining? Certainly not.

    Balmer knows best ;)

  • Ms
    1st April

    People and normal users who don’t know about the anti-standard philosophy of Microsoft fall down in the worst product they will imagine. Format closed and non compatible with the rest. We don’t have to wait 3 or 4 years AGAIN due this guys are silly and egoist people. It’s frustating.. but we have other GREATER choices. If you use a Mac there’s any problem (only if you want to sync your contacts from yopur old pc) but if you are not a Mac user you can use THUNDERBIRD.
    We need to leave alone the indeseable MS. They are seraching for this strict reaction for long. And many browsers are being able to render html5. We live in the future. We need html5 and web standards completely NOW. If not, kick in the ass and bye bye Microshit!

  • bigt
    1st April

    Event if there was better html support built into the new Outlook 2010 designers would still have to use the current techniques for html email to support 2007. There is still a large user base of Outlook 2003 and the current user base of the 2007 variety will not dwindle anytime soon. Realistically it’ll be 10 years before you’ll be able to use css float in emails. Microsoft stinks, but you’ll just have to deal with it.

  • Jenny
    1st April

    I can appreciate Campaign Monitor’s diplomatic approach in their post, as much as I agree with the anti-MS sentiments in the comments. Sometimes when you are working with a beast, it’s best to use gentle encouragement to see any progress :)

  • Guillaume
    1st April

    So, the new thing about integrating html into outlook is that there’s no new thing. Great, thanx a lot microsoft for…. nothing. Scandalous!
    Leave Microsoft product behind and move on!!! Why are these considered as standards anyway?
    My newsletter is working everywhere. EVERYWHERE but in outlook, the only email software you need to pay for. Come on…

  • Raul Ferrer
    1st April

    Yes, it’s a pain for us, but let’s be serious, to the everyday user of Outlook (for what it was designed…reading emails) they just use a complete piece of software and they couldn’t care less if it follows some “obscure” CSS standards…

    So after the rage, we’ve gotta be realistic. MS Outlook is there and it’s going to be there for a while. And since the major public, we’ll have to use it as well in order to make sure our campaigns work.
    Pitchforks and hammers didn’t do the trick, let’s hope some smoother options will help Outlook steer towards the proper roads…

  • Nick
    1st April

    That’s it ... I’m selling my xbox and buying a Sony playstation.

  • Nick
    1st April

    P.S. Raul - Pitchforks and hammers didn’t do the trick? We didn’t use pitch forks and hammers. We used a very nice, clever campaign. saveoutlook.org is brilliant. I say it’s time to resort to pitch forks and hammers.

    Also, the everyday user of Outlook does suffer. They do care if it follows CSS standards, they just don’t know it. When they can’t read their emails properly, they still get angry, but people are still going to try and push the email newsletter genre forward. As such, this crappy rendering engine is going to drive up newsletter production costs, etc. etc. etc. ... and for what? So that we can conform to the broken standards a multi-billion dollar corporation that doesn’t even have to try anymore?

    Meh. It’s more than a pain. It’s regressive.

  • Alexander Wolfe
    1st April

    “You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.”

    - Henry Ford

  • Kris
    1st April

    The sad fact is that MS can slap a new skin on old software and people will buy it.  People HAVE to buy it because the people with which they do business are using it and it’s not compatible with anything else.  MS doesn’t have to try because they have a product that controls the market (or at least a big enough portion of it).  Their mantra is “Conform to us or be left out”.

    Wouldn’t it be awesome if we were able to pull off a campaign where EVERYONE stopped patching their html to please MS?  Then users of MS products would always see broken content, and MS would have to conform to standards to keep their user base.  Wishful thinking.

  • Gregg Oldring
    1st April

    It seems that the next iteration of the FixOutlook campaign needs to be a DontBuyOutlook campaign. I nominate Dave to take the lead on this just in case there is a libel suit (his surf shorts have deep pockets).

  • Glen Adams
    1st April

    Is there any way we can sue Microsoft for not following web standards, and stopping the release, it is pathetic that a company this big can’t see the big picture.

  • Tim J
    1st April

    I agree with the earlier comment by G24… why such a calm response after all the campaigning? It sounds like MS have a gun to your head.

    I can appreciate that with such a widely used product, MS have limits on how quickly they can upgrade their software, but this has been going on for many years…

    I cannot believe they are rolling out Outlook 2010 with this ancient, flawed renderer. I’m just hoping in the next few years, the Apple OS (or another new one) comes along and just kills Microsoft’s lead of the market - if they keep up, they’ll get left behind.

  • Oz Dean
    1st April

    This is incredibly depressing news. WHY would Microsoft not hear you/us and act on THIS version of Outlook ? I also don’t know where to begin on the new security alert in Outlook 2010. Just shaking my head right now. Poor form Microsoft.

  • Ian Storm Taylor
    1st April

    I agree with Oz.

    I’m surprised that no one has commented on the fact that Microsoft forces the user to user Internet Explorer when opening “poorly rendered” emails. That is absolutely ridiculous.

    Actually though, now that I think about it… I’m not that surprised that no one commented… it’s to be expected by now.

  • BT
    1st April

    Just one big sigh…seriously, one day people will look back and say, “how did they get away with that?”

    Ian has hit the nail on the head, it’s just what we have come to expect!

  • rtpHarry
    1st April

    not to be negative but even if they do fix it then it wont make much difference to us for at least another decade.

    We will still have to pander to the older versions and your stats show that almost 30% of people are using a 7 year or older copy of Outlook.

    The only solution would be to release the new rendering engine as an required windows update that could be applied to all previous versions of Outlook as well as the next one.

  • spider
    2nd April

    Why don’t you all get together with some developers and design the perfect email client? Then, with the email designing and marketing community behind your amazing product, you can blow this crap away! ;)Circulate a tagline for designers to put at the bottom of their news-emails and so on: “Email look broken? Don’t view this in your browser - View it in X! <a>Find out why</a>”

  • rtbox
    2nd April

    that’s a great idea spider, where do we start?

  • tish
    2nd April

    I’m with spider! Can’t happen too soon, in the email world.

  • eff-MS
    2nd April

    Someone hit the head on the nail - Stop conforming to micro$haft “standards” and let the people that buy the product complain.

    I purposely code my websites not to display content if coming from any IE browser. I just display a message saying that their micro$haft browser is insecure and stealing their personal information. Provide a link to download fire fox and done.

    Roughly 70% that get that page download firefox and re-visit.

  • Alberto Rosso
    3rd April

    >>I purposely code my websites not to display content if coming from any IE browser.

    I bet your clients just love that.

    Given that most newsletters are not even opened, why the fuss?

  • Sol
    4th April

    The only saving grace: Design for Outlook 2007 / 10 and you’ll be pretty safe for all other clients! 

    We all know M$ sux - but they got a monopoly and can do what they want. Keep chipping away and educating your clients to avoid buying these sub-standard products.

  • Winkypop
    6th April

    What else can one expect from the dark mills of Microsoft?

  • Tony
    26th April

    Totally agree with spider. Did you already start :)
    I did test the beta of 2010, can’t really say I’m fully satisfied but also not disappointed. That’s what Microsoft is good in creating in consumers: being ‘happy’ with (frankly) mediocre software…
    Well, there are alternative and there fortunately are add-ins, that could increase the performance of the original product. I use Lookeen in addition to search through Outlook and it serves me well.
    However, the original intention to create a ‘super-people’s choice-software sounds very promising :)

  • Matt
    11th May

    Outlook is currently ruining my day again. I just needed somewhere to say it.
    <sigh>

  • Insider
    12th May

    My company is just about to move to the new online hosted Microsoft offering, so just to check everything out I was one of the first to migrate and decided to try the 2010 beta. Oh my gosh the experience is abismal all my research emails come through as a HTM attachments, my sharepoint summarys are attachments I cant view correctly. This is being reported back to the highest levels in Microsoft as this is the biggest move they are doing this year in Europe.

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