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As most of you know, our motivation for starting the Email Standards Project two years ago came from the release of Outlook 2007. Specifically, because of Microsoft’s decision to avoid using a browser to render HTML emails in place of a word processor. This immediately took standards-based email design off the table, forcing designers to abandon web standards for tables and font tags. You can read our original reaction and the subsequent call to arms that followed.

Since that time, we’ve had the pleasure of working with teams at Yahoo!, Apple, IBM, Google and even the Microsoft Entourage team. However, the elephant in the room was always Outlook. For a time things were looking good and we had the chance to chat with a number of passionate Microsoft employees who agreed with our position on standards and to try their best to improve future versions of Outlook. I’m sad to say, it looks like these efforts failed.

After testing the latest beta of Outlook 2010 and seeing the same poor standards support as 2007, a senior member of the Outlook team confirmed they plan on continuing to use Word to render HTML emails. Not only that, but early tests indicate that HTML support in the Word engine has not been improved in any way. Same bugs. Same quirks.

To demonstrate just how bad the Word rendering engine is in Outlook 2010, here’s exactly the same email rendered in Outlook 2000, and then Outlook 2010. Click the image for a full sized version.


Microsoft explain their position

When Outlook 2007 was released there were lots of theories thrown around about what motivated the switch to the Word rendering engine. Many stipulated that it was a security related decision after the problems they’d been having with previous versions of Outlook. As it turns out, it was much simpler than that.

This was confirmed last week in a discussion with Outlook Product Manager Dev Balasubramanian. When asked why Outlook is using Word to compose HTML emails, this was his response:

“The reason for this lies in the benefit Outlook users gain by having Word as their e-mail authoring tool; rich tools like SmartArt, automatic styles and templates, and other benefits found in Word 2007 and 2010 enable Outlook users to write professional looking and visually stunning messages.”

“I am aware of where this decision on our part places Outlook from a standards perspective – at the same time, we ask that you consider the benefits Outlook users get from having Word tools in their e-mail authoring experience.”

When asked why Word is also used to render HTML emails, Dev explained:

“Having multiple HTML engines could reduce performance, as well as create an inconsistency in terms of what type of content the user is able to create vs. consume.”

Basically, Microsoft are using the Word rendering engine so emails composed in Outlook will look consistent when viewed by other Outlook users (also confirmed in this Microsoft white paper).

Email is not a walled garden

Microsoft’s decision to move away from the pre-2007 approach of using Internet Explorer to render emails clearly demonstrates they are not confident that emails composed using Word will render correctly in a web browser. Remember, for a second, that every other email client on the market today uses a web browser to render HTML email.

Surely Microsoft understand that if an Outlook 2010 user sends a Word formatted email to a friend using Apple Mail or Thunderbird and it’s unreadable, both sender and receiver suffer a poor experience. By aiming to please Outlook-to-Outlook senders, they are punishing Outlook customers who send to those using other email clients. Given the fact that Outlook 2007 only commands around 7% email client market share, it’s easy to see how short-sighted this is.

An obvious solution

To us, the solution couldn’t be more clear-cut. By updating the Word engine so it can compose and render standards based HTML, all of these problems are solved. Microsoft can have its pie and eat it too.

Outlook customers can receive email from outside sources without formatting problems. They can also rest assured that any emails they send to friends and colleagues not using Outlook will display as intended.

As the market upgrades from Outlook 2007 to 2010, HTML email design can move out of the pre-standards era of the 90’s bringing all the benefits that come with it.

Microsoft want your feedback on this decision

Outlook 2010 is still in beta and a year away from public release. Either we make it clear this is a bad decision now, or the disconnect between Outlook users and the rest of the email world will continue to grow. Email designers will be stuck building emails using the same clunky combination of tables for layout, inline CSS and font tags for many years to come.

Thankfully, Microsoft want to hear your feedback about this. From the Outlook Product Manager Dev Balasubramanian:

“The Office team, and Microsoft in general, is always open to and interested in customer feedback so we can prioritize the various needs of our diverse user base in product planning and development.”

“This conversation alone has reignited the topic within the Outlook and Word teams and in and of itself will contribute to future design considerations… We want to hear feedback on this position, and I’m sure you and your readers will provide it.”

It’s time for us to send the strongest message yet to Microsoft, and we need your help to get started. To make this happen, we’ve built fixoutlook.org.

Click to visit fixoutlook.org

All you have to do is tweet your thoughts about this issue, and make sure you include the fixoutlook.org URL somewhere in the tweet. We’ll be pulling together every tweet that includes this link on the fixoutlook.org site to send a unified message to Microsoft. The more tweets, the more impact, so please start spreading the word today and encourage your friends and colleagues to do the same.

To get started, head to fixoutlook.org for all the details.

  • Bill

    Great initiative guys – this has caused us a lot of pain in the past.

  • Dave Calleja

    Awesome work, I really hope they opt for your ‘make Word standard compliant’ idea. Best of both worlds.

  • Cody

    Wow, talk about lazy. Replacing the Word engine in both Outlook and Word would have tremendous benefits to all users (MS or other).

  • OJ

    If we could only have a button for sending only plain text emails to Outlook. Preferably a big red one.

  • Fahed

    Guys, you also need to accommodate for non-Tweeters!

  • David Greiner

    @Fahed, we did consider that, but figured one big message from one source would be the best way to get everyone on board. You could always create an account ;)

  • Niall

    What is the impact of MS removing IE8 from Windows in some markets? Does that force it to create a new rendering engine just for Office?

  • David Greiner

    @Niall, we’re not asking Microsoft to use IE8 instead of Word, we’re just asking them to upgrade the Word rendering engine to support web standards.

  • Wagner Matos

    Really, really great initiative guys… we need to put a stop on Microsoft absurd practices and make us heard! We need standards so the web will be better place for EVERYONE, not just Outlook users…

  • Dean

    I shudder to think what those “professional looking and visually stunning messages” look like!

    Anyway, great idea by you guys and I’ve Tweeted already (or whatever the term is – I don’t use it that much).

  • Anders

    I do agree that Outlook needs to be fixed. However, I would like to see the boy scouts from Mountain View (Google) invited to the party aswell. Gmail certainly needs some fixing too.

  • Morgan Roderick

    While I do think this a worthy cause, and the desired result would certainly save us enormous costs globally, I doubt Microsoft is going to wake up and take notice of what we want.

    Look at what happened with IE8 and it’s default rendering modes … a lot of discussions, and then Microsoft go and implement a user-voted blacklist of site that should be rendered as IE7, possibly for eternity.

    Microsoft doesn’t really care about developers or end users, but only cares about strengthening it’s own position.

  • Liam Crean

    Another giant leap backward for MS. Well done.

  • Jon

    There is an Outlook team blog here: http://blogs.msdn.com/outlook/. People need to be on there constantly, repeatedly bringing this up and blasting them for it. It’s not a pleasant tactic, but it worked well with the IE team to make them reverse their position on several non-standard approaches, and just to get across the level of frustration and anger people feel about their approach.

  • nic

    Does this really surpise anyone?

  • Fabien

    Hey, Microsoft: I recommend Webkit. Great HTML renderer, and nice closed-source-friendly licence.

  • bgalmar

    un effing believable. I was told by a microsoft employee that I would have more luck with html emails if I built them in FrontPage… What?

  • Jake

    Wow, this is pretty crazy at this point in time. We really need to get on the horn and build up huge levels of feedback to this.

    On the bright side, I know more people than ever who stay away from Outlook anyway, although it’s clearly still huge.

  • gorlok

    Don’t lost your time. Use better tools. Try Thunderbird.

  • Sergey’s Mom

    yes I am dying to get all tht spam to render nicely – who gives a hoot.

  • Anonymous

    I’m a stickler for grammar. Why is it “Microsoft want” instead of “Microsoft wants” in your sentences?

  • karynn

    David, have you contacted some of your competitors to try to get their support for this campaign? I know they would be supportive… I mean, how could they not be?

  • David Greiner

    @karryn, we’ve definitely spread the word around and have great support from a lot of them. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • Helmut

    Fixing the Word engine to create decent HTML would also be a commercial gain. It would give Office users a good reason to upgrade!

  • Scott Maxworthy

    If you can show MS how it will make them lots more money and you’ll have a far better chance then appealing to community sentiment.

  • Anonymous2

    I second this post from anonymous above me:

    “I’m a stickler for grammar. Why is it “Microsoft want” instead of “Microsoft wants” in your sentences?”

    Fix campaignmonitorblogenglish.org !!! Join the movement.

  • Adam

    I’m glad Microsoft is interested in hearing our feedback on this decision, but there’s not much I can say other than “keep up the good work.”

  • Marlon F.

    If you all don’t like this, why not use another e-mail client? Where I work, we use Thunderbird with the Lightning add-on.

  • steven

    This is just what I was looking for. The templates are a nice idea. Good Luck
    more templates easy to download

This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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