By Alex Walker

Outlook 2010 to Set New Standard in Irritation

By Alex Walker

Creating HTML Email is a tough gig.

By the time you add up all the relevant desktop clients and common webmail providers, you are talking about between 15-30 platforms you need to test for. Even if all those mail clients were friendly, modern and predictable net citizens, that would still be a big task.

They’re not.

A few years ago — joy of joys — things got significantly harder when Microsoft chose to cripple the rendering-capabilities of their flagship mail product by replacing its HTML rendering engine with Word.

This is roughly equivalent to replacing your lawnmower with a sand wedge — you can try all day but it just doesn’t cut it.

Although at the time, there was some speculation that the decision was motivated by security concerns, Microsoft have since made it clear that they were simply more interested in making the Outlook 2007 to Outlook 2007 experience better (read the Campaign Monitor guys’ post for the nitty gritty).

This has to stop. Email is an open standard and we should be past the time when we NEED to continue to spruik this argument to Microsoft. Put simply, Word’s horrid understanding of HTML is costing us all time and money while detracting from everyone’s experience.

Outlook's BrokenAt this point in time, Microsoft appear to be intent on using the Word rendering engine in Outlook 2010 — but it’s not too late. The app is still in early beta and Microsoft are asking for feedback.

So what do we do about it?

The most immediate impact you can have is getting down to and tweeting to let Microsoft know this is NOT cool.

If you’ve ever sobbed salty tears into your keyboard over another Outlook 2007 email fail, you won’t need much convincing. download movies

Microsoft have offered this disappointing and frankly pretty lame first response to the initiative.

  • This is a really poor choice by Microsoft. We obviously didn’t make enough noise about Outlook 07 (but geeze – how much noise do we need to make?)

    Really hope they change their mind about this one!

  • I wonder as to the effectiveness of getting 5000 people that don’t use Outlook to complain about Outlook.

  • Luc Pestille

    I do use Outlook, and I’ll be thr first one to complain about it’s lack of HTML rendering ability. The sooner Outlook uses IE8’s rendering engine, the better – let’s hope that happens before IE9 comes out…

  • I *do* use Outlook Dan, and for the most part I’m a big fan… but these backwards steps in rendering are both puzzling and frustrating.

    Enough non-IE users managed to get MS’s attention prior to the release of IE8. We can only hope I suppose!

    MS: Give us the IE8 rendering engine!!!

  • Zeke Franco

    From what I’ve heard Microsoft uses Word HTML engine in Outlook so users can paste from Word to Outlook and have everything look exactly the same. Apparently Office users would get pissed when they’d “design” something in Word then try to email the contents out, only to see that it looks wrong in the email.

    If Microsoft would just use standards and open XML across their products they be able to join everything a lot better. Now that Ray Ozzie is at MS let hope they continue down this path like they did with IE8.

  • Dilip Patharachalam

    It says :

    Outlook 2007 to Outlook 2007 experience better (read the Campaign Monitor guys post for the nitty gritty).

    should be changed to 2010

  • markfiend

    Typo in the article:

    “…replacing it’s HTML rendering engine…” should be its. “It’s” is a contraction of “it is” or “it has”. “Its” is the third person singular possessive pronoun.

    Pet peeve.
    Anyhoo. Microsoft breaks open standard. In other news, Pope still Catholic.

  • Who’s willing to bet that if MS DID put the IE8 rendering engine into Outlook, someone like Opera will whine about tying IE into Office and it being ‘anti competitive’ or some rubbish?

    All this legal rubbish that Opera & the EU keep throwing up makes things worse for the consumer, and I bet it has something to do with the decision MS made to use the Word rendering engine instead.

  • Joe

    It _is_ actually too late. Once MS puts a product out in public view the design is pretty much done. Making a major change this late in the game isn’t gonna happen. You can campaign for Office 2012.

  • Stevie D


    It says :

    Outlook 2007 to Outlook 2007 experience better (read the Campaign Monitor guys post for the nitty gritty).

    should be changed to 2010

    No, the article is correct.

    Microsoft decided that they wanted to improve the “email experience” for people sending from Outlook 2007 to other people using Outlook 2007. They decided that this should be at the expense of anyone on Outlook 2007 receiving mail from any other HTML email client, and at the expense of anyone using any other email client receiving mail from Outlook 2007 – and that these people would be subjected to a significantly worse, because they couldn’t be bothered to develop a system that meets the standards that have been internationally agreed for years and which they helped to develop.

  • @markfiend Thanks, typo fixed.

  • Dan Grossman Says: I wonder as to the effectiveness of getting 5000 people that don’t use Outlook to complain about Outlook.

    Haha, indeed!

  • zuneone

    I won’t lose any sleep over this.

  • Chris

    Who cares? I know, I know they have a huge installed user base so we have to but I say let ’em slide into irrelevance. We’ve all known the tripe Microsoft has foisted on us over the years was crap and we’ve had to grudgingly answer “thank you sir, may I please have another” but the times are changing. New generations of people that actually can identify a crap browser and install a better one are here and growing. The boomer generation, who look at computers in fear and bewilderment, are being usurped by tech savvy people that embrace their computer and make it work for them. They will be the generation that will look upon Outlook, IE, Windows, etc. and see it for the crap it is and in time reject it for something better. Microsoft is too bloated and slow to adapt – look at Bing. How many years ago has Microsoft tried to emulate Google? Only now have they presented something that’s even remotely usable. Is it compelling enough to leap past Google? No. Will Wave be compelling enough to dump Outlook? By version 2, probably. Microsoft nurses on the teat of monopoly rather than excellence but that will dry up someday. At some point, we as developers have to stop saying “we can’t use (HTML 5, CSS 3, HTML email, etc.) because of Microsoft” and instead simply inform this new generation what they are missing if they choose to use Microsoft products. They will switch because they can.

  • Kenneth

    How about we stop using html for email. Text, the killer app. (I neither send nor read html formatted emails.)

  • Michael

    Well, with email services like mailchimp et. all, as long as it isn’t significantly worse than 2007, then my workflow won’t really change.

  • JoeFlash

    I’m sure the decision to use Word as the HTML rendering engine was a hard decision on Microsoft’s part. With the problems the company has had with Europe to provide fiar competition with browsers, they have had to make Internet Explorer removable and even not available in the OS. If Outlook is made dependent on the browser for rendering it would then become broken. The choice of a rendering engine had to be made on what would be known to be available. In light of this, we can only hope that Microsoft will update Word’s HTML rendering engine to utilize the abilities of IE8’s engine.

  • Samuel

    …OR they could fix MS Words horrible understanding of HTML and have it use the ie8 engine and let outlook keep using MS Word. Then The world would be full of Sunbeams and smiling children.

  • I wonder as to the effectiveness of getting 5000 people that don’t use Outlook to complain about Outlook.

    I pretty much use outlook exclusively at work.

  • cyphix

    I’ll never know why people use Outlook in the first place; guess the same could be said for IE. ;)

  • Well,

    I work in the financial Sector where most people work on the exchange server. If you want good functionality with it you either log on in the Outlook web server interface or sync up with the Exchange Server using outlook.

    We need are forced to archive everything and the most number of systems for this are available for the Exchange Server. I could get some different POP account with a different piece of software but would lose things like calendar integration which syncs to my blackberry.

  • Mike

    Uh… “spruik”?

  • @Dan Grossman

    I wonder as to the effectiveness of getting 5000 people that don’t use Outlook to complain about Outlook.

    Since day one with the xBox, Microsoft has understood the game is all about looking after the developers. They’ve understood that if they made it fast, cheap and efficient to make great content for the xBox platform, the developers will make using it a compelling experience, and the userbase will look after itself.

    It has. xBox has been a huge success story in a hyper competitive marketplace.

    When an Outlook 2007 user gets a dodgy looking HTML email, sure it makes the sender look bad, but it also makes Outlook look bad and it makes the Microsoft brand look unprofessional.

    Getting HTML email developers to *want* to build for your product — particularly when you control less than 10% of the market — should be of paramount importance to Microsoft.

  • @ stormrider

    Who’s willing to bet that if MS DID put the IE8 rendering engine into Outlook, someone like Opera will whine about tying IE into Office and it being ‘anti competitive’ or some rubbish?

    Seems unlikely since the worldwide standard for handling HTML in an email client is to use a pre-built rendering component. Opera mail uses Presto, Apple Mail uses Webkit, Thunderbird uses Gecko, Evolution uses KHTML, etc.

    We’re not talking about leaving Outlook and opening IE8 here — we’re just talking about using a Microsoft using their lovingly crafted, purpose-built HTML renderer for rendering HTML.

  • @AlexW: But none of those are monopolies, that they can do it doesn’t mean Microsoft can.

  • @Dan Grossman — Microsoft happily used IE6’s rendering engine until 2007 with no hint of legal trouble. The antitrust rulings were handed down in 2000/2001 and made no mention of Outlook or it’s rendering methods.

    As Outlook is a non-free, non-bundled app, it’s hard to imagine what the case against them could be.

  • Funny and sad in equal parts..

    [click here to] Read this issue online if you can’t see the images or are using Outlook 2007.”

    – Quoted from the official Microsoft Xbox newsletter

    Via Tim Dawson in the comments for The Power of Word in Outlook.

  • Thomas

    HTML shouldn’t be used for mails anyway, but plain text. So I couldn’t care less.

  • Stevie D


    I’ll never know why people use Outlook in the first place

    Outlook is a pretty good piece of kit overall. I know plenty of people whose workplaces have switched from Outlook to Lotus or some other package and have found them so lacking in functionality and usability in comparison.

    Yes, there are some features that (in 2000 at least, we aren’t lucky enough to get anything newer than that in this office!) could do with improving, but in general, the interface between email, contacts, calendar and the features running across the Exchange server work very well. The rich text email format is great, and far more efficient than HTML, when sending to compatible clients. But the quality of HTML produced is appalling :-(

    No, Outlook isn’t perfect, but as a corporate communication and management package it is very good, and I am not aware of anything out there that is more effective. (And as someone who uses Forté Agent, Opera and OpenOffice at home, it hurts for me to say that!)
    I’m not so sure that it offers the same level of benefit to a home user though.

  • Thomas Says:
    June 25th, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    HTML shouldn’t be used for mails anyway, but plain text. So I couldn’t care less.

    In a purist sense, maybe it should not be used. The average user does not care. They just want to be able to format their messages and do not want to send plain text messages.

  • @Stevie D:

    I’m relieved to hear some defense of Outlook. Well, at least of people using Outlook. Hey, I hate MS as much any right-thinking web developer, so it pains me to be stuck on Outlook, but I have not had success moving away. And I confess that I’m not even using Exchange, so even less reason to stay.

    Recommendations welcome. Is it time to give OpenOffice another serious try?

  • Doesn’t firefox have some sort of email client?

  • Thunderbird’s a nice client, no question, but is not in the same class as Outlook. In a large business, especially one whose network is based on ActiveDirectory and Exchange servers, you simply can’t substitute most “home” clients for Outlook. Outlook handles everything from scheduling meetings (and checking out other peoples’ schedules so you know when they’ll all be free) to company-wide contact directories to the IT department setting e-mail rules. Stuff the “home” clients have no support for.

  • @Mike

    Uh… “spruik”?


    (transitive, Australian) To promote a thing or idea to another person, in order that they buy the thing, or accept the idea

    Actually that term is apparently more localized than I realized till now.

  • jcartledge

    Am I right in thinking only email marketers care about this?

  • Zeldman reports the reason why IE8 isn’t used as the rendering engine is because the Outlook division couldn’t afford it.

  • I have been an outlook user, after i start using gmail, never want to use outlook. With Gmail, you don’t need to download all unwanted and virus mails.

  • @Thomas

    HTML shouldn’t be used for mails anyway, but plain text.

    That is an argument worth having, (seperatly from this one) but I think you will find that most of the arguments for ‘plain-text only’ are remarkably similar to the arguments for a proper rendering engine for HTML.

    Those who keep bleating on about “you shouldn’t use Outlook” are also off-base. Millions of people use it, mostly because someone else has made that decision for them, and telling them to change is not an option.

    No, I would estimate that the majority of web developers have to develop a report to be sent by email at least once a year. Besides, if we don’t fight this now, things will only get worse – we politely asked Microsoft to change their mind when they first pulled this stunt, but clearly they didn’t listen.

    With regard to earlier references to EU sanctions; I would rather live with the EU imposing sanctions that appear slightly bizarre, than with the totally ineffectual sanctions imposed by the US courts for a much larger infringement.

  • Stevie D


    HTML shouldn’t be used for mails anyway, but plain text. So I couldn’t care less.

    I disagree. I use email a lot for work – not as marketing in any way, shape or form, but to communicate with colleagues. Being able to use even basic formatting, such as bold text, colour-coding (especially for quoted and nested-quoted text), images, bullets and so on all aids communicatoin, and allows me to get the message across more effectively than if I was limited to plain text.

    If I am just sending an email internally, I can use Outlook Rich Text mode, but that’s a proprietary standard so no use for anyone not on Outlook – the only option then is to use HTML.

    OK, there is another option – I could type it up in Word and send it as an attachment, but that just puts more hurdles in the way and makes it even less efficient.

    There is nothing wrong with HTML emails in principle. What is wrong with them is (a) abuse by marketing types, and (b) the appalling standard of HTML authoring and rendering in the various email clients out there.

  • Hamranhansenhansen

    I would like to know if the author or any of you other complainers uses any Microsoft products. If there is one thing I’m more tired of than Microsoft’s poor software quality, it’s Microsoft’s own users complaining like there is nothing to be done about it.

    If you are running Windows right now, you are an Internet Explorer developer, you are an Outlook developer. Enjoy! Stop complaining. You asked for it and you got it. A complete disaster. I’ve been a Web developer since 1994 and I can say with authority that y’all were warned not to build on Microsoft’s sandbar. They are the same as they ever were only worse, because they’ve almost entirely stopped shipping products. There has been nothing to build on for the past decade from them.

    Right now, the Web developers who are going to get all the work from 2010-2020 are building HTML 5. If you are learning how to make Word documents for Outlook right now then good luck to you. I don’t even make HTML for Windows; it cannot render it. For Windows you make Flash because it’s the only thing that just works. It’s the only way to play MPEG-4 on a stock Windows box. For years it was the only way to show a PNG. Now Flash 10 has advanced typography … that is like 10 years away on Windows. It takes less time to make a Flash clone of your site than it does to make an HTML version that is compatible with IE 5.5-8. If you play Microsoft’s game you will get burned. So don’t play it.

    Again, if you’re running Windows you have no right to complain. You’re part of the problem. You’re making Windows-1252 text files with DOS line breaks and you’re sending them to me as freelance Web work and I’m firing you for it. Get a Web-compatible computer! Next year is the Web’s 20th anniversary. There is no excuse.

  • @Hamranhansenhansen Personally I use Chrome and Thunderbird for web and email respectively happy to put my hand up as a Windows user.

    I’m sure like many others here, I’d be interested to see these sites you’re serving in Flash to Windows users only.


  • maxloo

    I love the script from the site, do you known how is working this script ????

Get the latest in Front-end, once a week, for free.