After a year-and-a-half‘s worth of build up, Microsoft Outlook 2011 for Mac was finally released last month. The first thing to note is the name change. In my eyes, this is an improvement in its own right – ‘Entourage’ (as the previous versions of the email client were called) always made me think of jocks riding in cars.

“I am pleasantly surprised by Outlook 2011. HTML rendering is still good and MS ditched the crash-prone monolithic database.”

But beyond the packaging, there’s some good news regarding how Microsoft’s email client handles HTML email. In particular, retaining the Webkit rendering engine (circa Entourage 2008) has kept it up to speed with Apple Mail in terms of providing users with a web standards -compliant email experience. Perhaps Microsoft’s Macintosh Business Unit is aware of what a mess the Word engine can be in Outlook for Windows… But we’d quite fancifully like to think that the Email Standards Project is somehow fulfilling its job!

Lets take a closer look at Outlook ’11 and see how it weighs up against its Windows-based cousins, plus if it will change the way we design email campaigns.

Start ‘er up…

If you’ve used Entourage previously, the first thing you’re going to notice when you first turn the keys is how visually similar they are. Love it or hate it, the Office ‘ribbon’ navigation bar is still there, however it’s been toned down and streamlined significantly. Pleasingly, this ‘tone down and streamline’ approach has been applied to the UI overall, resulting in an app that looks like a Mac app and not some awkward relation of Office for Windows.

First look at Outlook 2011

An obvious step up from Apple Mail’s lot is that emails in the inbox are threaded by sender. Personally, I find this approach to be much more manageable, especially if you’re like me and are conducting half-a-dozen conversations at once and absolutely never reach inbox zero nirvana.

HTML email, as it should be

So, lets move onto the main event – how Outlook ’11 handles HTML email. Thankfully, the short answer is – very well. As mentioned earlier, Outlook ’11 has retained Apple’s Webkit engine since its introduction in Entourage 2008 (the 2004 edition uses Tasman) and the results are faultless. Like fellow Webkit-loving client Apple Mail, Outlook ’11 displays HTML email as faithfully in the inbox as it would if being viewed in the Safari web browser – it even supports a range of Webkit and non-Webkit specific CSS3 properties. Until we next update the Guide to CSS support in email clients (which won’t be too far off, we promise), please refer to the ‘Apple Mail’ column when determining how Outlook ’11 handles CSS – the results between the two are identical.

Email with images on

To move onto other important matters, it’s worth mentioning that images are turned off by default in this email client – this is in line with Entourage 2008 and the Outlook titles for Windows. Find out more about image blocking in email clients.

Finally, unlike a lot of other email clients (including Apple Mail), anchor links actually do work in HTML email as expected. This is great news, as Outlook ’07 for Windows and others don’t reliably support anchor links.

How will this affect email designers?

For folks like us, the popularization of an email client that renders HTML email like a charm is simply all good news. Unlike previous Outlook or Hotmail releases, we haven’t found any glitches (so far) to give us reason to change the way we design email newsletters, however we’ll certainly be keeping an ear to the ground in the coming weeks.

In essence, we’ve got our fingers crossed that Outlook ’11 takes off. Not only will it mean more email clients in the wild that render HTML email with integrity, but with luck, it could potentially influence the development of other titles in the Outlook franchise. Really, imagine if the next Outlook for Windows dropped the Word rendering engine for Webkit. For one thing, I’d personally pledge every reader a free hug. Given less rendering bugs to deal with on a daily basis, there’s a good chance I’d find the time to accomplish this goal.

To see Outlook ’11 for yourself, check out their site, or download a 30-day free trial.

  • Bryan Quilty

    It operates as it should being run on OSX. A+

  • Andy T

    Sounds like MS finally got an email clients right?
    Who’d a thunk it.

    I have a small dreading that for some reason we won’t get this lucky in Windows though. There always seems to be a level of pretentiousness around the MS Windows apps that never fails to underwhelm me/

  • robinj

    Hi I’m really puzzled as to why so many people prefer Outlook 2011 to Entourage 2008. I know that Entourage wouldn’t work easily with Time Machine and the Outlook does. Beyond that and a fresh new look Outlook is missing features:

    (a) Outlook has no Projects (for keeping together contacts, files and calendar events). This was a very useful feature of Entourage although it didn’t work fully with the Exchange server (e.g., files were kept on the local machine – only calendar items and contacts could be picked up elsewhere on the server.

    (b) Unable to drag and drop commonly used mail folders onto the Outlook tool bar (I use rules when possible but a lot of my mail isn’t suitable).

    (c) Entourage but not Outlook understood Applescript enabling you to turn an email into a calendar event. I’ve tried adapting and re-writing Applescript (and saught lots of Google help). As far as I understand, this will work on Outlook but the message adds in lots of HTML junk.

    (d) Multiple signatures were easy in Entourage. If you send an email with your non-default signature you select it – the default is replaced by the specialised one (v. useful for different work roles). Outlook offers multiple (and default) signatures but when you select a non-default the default one stays there – you get TWO signatures.

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