Outlook is Microsoft’s personal manager software and is an essential tool for most office workers. It has many features but its primary use is that of an email client.

As of their 2007 version the company announced that they would limit support for CSS and HTML and instead use the rendering layout of Office Word.

Microsoft feel that everyday users of their software can create attractive emails by integrating their application with Word, and that the needs of web designers to create HTML for all email clients are periphery to this.
Now the average everyday Outlook user doesn’t care about what support their email client has for CSS and HTML, but this does affect web designers.

Creating HTML newsletters is one of the hardest challenges for a web designer. They are a nightmare to code because of the range of email clients and their primitive support for Cascading Style Sheets.

As is often the case, web designers work to the lowest common denominator when it comes to standards support. The primary concern is making sure that HTML and CSS newsletters display correctly in Outlook.

What makes the Microsoft stance on their email client even more restrictive is that when it comes to their browsers they allow web designers to apply conditional comments so as to design for a particular IE version; this isn’t possible when designing for Outlook.

The newly formed Email Standards Project recently launched an online campaign called Outlook’s Broken: Lets Fix It.
On June 24, 2009 the Microsoft Outlook Team Blog published a post called The Power of Word in Outlook dismissing the campaign.

One bone of contention they have is that the Email Standards Project isn’t a widely recognised “official” body like the W3C, concluding their response.

The campaign is a little disingenuous – no doubt unintentionally – as it doesn’t make it clear that Microsoft instituted the Word layout with Outlook 2007 not the forthcoming 2010 version, and Microsoft are right in that the actual Email Standards Project is mainly an arm of the private companyFreshview; but they are wrong to dismiss this issue out of hand.

I would ask Microsoft that if there is “no widely-recognized consensus in the industry” about a common set of email standards then what have they done to bring one about?
I would imagine absolutely nothing.

To dismiss the Email Standards Project as a non-entity is to ignore the fact that the vast majority of people involved in the online creative industries would like to have a universal email standard and believe that Microsoft adopting the Word rendering machine for Outlook is a step in the wrong direction.

For whatever reason, Microsoft doesn’t like conforming to international web standards. Other companies such as Apple, Mozilla and Google take pride in adopting these rules and guidelines – Microsoft takes pride in sticking up two fingers.

Microsoft needs to find a way that both makes attractive email design easy for the everyday user, and promotes international web standards.

We need email clients to have as much support for HTML and CSS as modern browsers do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *