Content with Style

Web Technique

Outlook 2007 and those bloody HTML emails

by Pascal Opitz on January 18 2007, 08:07

Microsoft comes up with a great way of rendering emails in Outlook 2007 which might cause Matthias to refuse doing any HTML formatted emails in the future.

David Greiner posted this interesting article on
stating that Microsoft just threw back the development of HTML emails for about 5 years, and even though Molly Holzschlag seems to be more pragmatic about the whole thing than David, saying that we should dry our tears and start dealing with the problem, the problem itself remains:

It will not be possible to use accessible, standard-compliant and best-practice HTML to format emails anymore.
Outlook 2007 will mess everything up and cripple anything that uses floats and other sophisticated CSS commands.

While many people get really worked up over this I start secretly smiling and telling myself my honest opinion over and over again:
“There shouldn’t be ANY HTML in emails. They’re supposed to be plain text and maybe some attachments!”


  • Thomas, all fair points, and I admit that me disliking HTML emails is far from being the holy grail … In other words:
    I just don’t like them, even though there might be a million of reasons to have them!

    But for the sake of all children … ohh well, go on!

    by Pascal Opitz on March 15 2007, 07:24 #

  • I believe that communication is more than just words.

    When I talk, I flail my arms all around like a madman. I also move my face and inflect my voice. Eyes communicate more in a single tiny movement than could be expressed in a paragraph of text, and more accurately express your emotions.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for words. It’s impossible to communicate complex ideas and specific details without them. But there’s way more to communication than just words.

    With HTML email and custom printing and flowery stationary and glitter pens, etc… we have the ability to communicate with words using inflections like bold and italic and even color. We have the ability to communicate with pictures and graphics.

    If I were deaf, it’d be fun to have email conversations with pictures using ASL or even video. Or have you ever gotten a love letter from your wife that was written with cute handwriting on cute stationary and a subtle whiff of her perfume?

    I also believe that branding and style have an important role to play in business communication. When I do business with a company, I want the entire experience with that company to be top notch. I want every communication with them to feel good. Branding helps to communicate subconscious ideas like trust and respect.

    It also helps to be able to get tabular data in a table element with the confidence that the layout isn’t going to break, etc…

    Lastly, think of the children. Don’t take our glitter pens away :’(

    by Thomas Aylott on March 15 2007, 07:12 #

  • There’s another good article at which shows examples of just how far Microsoft have taken us back. Progress? Microsoft apparently doesn’t want it.

    by minxlj on January 18 2007, 08:32 #

  • minxlj, that was the article I referred to, no?

    by Pascal Opitz on January 18 2007, 08:35 #

  • Pure text email?!

    Why not take my color vision away?
    Vision should be black and white! Consarnit!

    by Thomas Aylott on January 18 2007, 08:48 #

  • Thomas, while this is a bit of a pointless analogy you’re trying to make let me just point out that I am not alone with my opinion, and if you check the article on campaignmonitor you’ll have loads of opinions like this one by FatHed, which I’ve taken out randomly:

    “I like text, html email just means fluff for the sake of fluff.”

    by Pascal Opitz on January 18 2007, 09:34 #

  • I tentatively disagree with Pascal’s opinion, but he’s right in saying that I feel like refusing this kind of work in the future.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like building templates, for web pages and newsletters alike, but both hotmail/windows live and outlook going down, together with gmail’s hmmdidIsaycrap engine (and the other big corporate pile of doodoo, Lotus Notes)... I thought we’re all pretty much grown out of the age of building and rebuilding html for one client at a time?

    by Matthias on January 18 2007, 09:35 #

  • Ohh, needless to say that my second favorite browser is lynx ;)

    by Pascal Opitz on January 18 2007, 09:38 #

  • I don’t get why some people think e-mails should not have HTML in them. Yes, originally, e-mail was designed to be just plain text and attachments… but the web was also designed to be just a collection of (mostly textual) scientific documents.

    Both mediums have evolved to meet our needs and desires to present information with graphical presentation. Don’t you think it’s ironic that you, the owner of a web site called “Content with Style,” should object to being able to deliver your e-mail content “with style”? ;-)

    Of course, there are plenty of people who abuse the HTML capabilities of e-mail, just like those who abuse animated GIFs and JavaScript on web pages. But as any graphic designer can tell you, the presentation is often the most important factor in the effectiveness of your content.

    It’s much easier to read a nicely formatted HTML e-mail with headings, bulleted lists, bold text, and colors, etc. than a text e-mail limited to using strange ASCII characters to indicate formatting.

    by Richard Davies on January 18 2007, 12:12 #

  • Richard, feel free to call me retro, but I think that the web is supposed to be a network of interlinked text based documents. If I wanted an application I’d rather install it.
    In my mind that’s relating to what accessibility and standards are about, and the reason why XML based formats like SVG are more accessible than SWF for example is because of their text-based nature.

    However, my personal opinion (an I repeat, this is my VERY personal opinion) is that there is just no increase in information submitted in HTML emails that justify the increase of data.

    Another issue I see is that HTML formatted emails allow spammers to hide things in the email that allow them to gather data (images with query string for example) or disguise links for applying phishing techniques, and while you have more control over which websites you browse you cannot really control
    the emails you get.

    However, this is just my opinion and maybe I am a grumpy german straight out of the way back machine. I always turn HTML off in all email clients I install and I avoid sending HTML emails to anyone.

    BTW: My understanding of “with Style” always has been that it means primarily good coding and markup style, not good looks ;)

    by Pascal Opitz on January 18 2007, 12:44 #

  • oooooooooooohhh no he didn’t! I think you’re spot-on with text formatting, and I also agree about a coherence between content and style, er, presentation.

    The bit where I turn unreasonably annoyed is where designing a web-page and designing for email is seen with equal expectation, e.g. something that used to be called “pixel-perfect”. But that's a different story altogether, I guess.

    I believe there is a trend that goes more and more towards using web based email.
    The huge market-share between them and outlook could form a critical mass that would, ironically, work in favour for both Pascal (reducing fluff), AND Richard(still styling up content in order to make it easier on the eye). What it doesn't do is to help web-standards in HTML emails.

    Does anyone know if outlook express will be affected, too?

    by Matthias on January 18 2007, 12:51 #

  • Mmmmmm, pointless analogies…
    Almost as good as using color and “style” in my text-based communications.

    I get a lot of junk mail. Maybe everyone should only ever send pure text mail in pure white envelopes on 8.5×11 paper.

    No postcards! Packages are ok, as long as they don’t have any sort of wrapping paper.

    The future is now.

    by Thomas Aylott on February 9 2007, 01:26 #

  • Thomas, from an environmentalist point of view that is exactly what we should do. Also the cost of sending post keeps most people from sending a postcard as A4 letter.

    Maybe I just refuse to understand why so many people are trying so desperately to make fast communication slow, like lot of people that I have encountered throughout my work life?
    If you say “loading time” they say “all of our targeted audience has got fast connection”, I say “accessibility” and they say “who do you think will buy this, blind people?” and if you ask “So what we send out is just one sentence?” they reply “yeah, but we do that in an HTML email and send a logo with it!”.

    by Pascal Opitz on February 9 2007, 05:05 #