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.
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.
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.