Users Upset at Outlook HTML Change

Microsoft has made the decision to use the Word HTML rendering engines for both the reading and composing of messages within Outlook 2007, a decision that has been criticized by those who use HTML e-mail frequently.

The change means that many e-mails who may have displayed perfectly within Outlook in previous versions may look seriously jumbled in the latest incarnation. There's a simple reason for this: Word supports far less HTML standards.

Before Office 2007, the Word rendering engine was used only to compose mail, while Internet Explorer was used to view them. This opened the doors for design-rich messages, and Outlook was considered one of the best platforms.

Now, many of those HTML and CSS attributes are gone, leaving some messages a mess and looking nothing like the sender intended. Gone is support for background images, forms, plugins, animated GIFs, among others.

Redmond explains its decision as such: "A big thing we heard from customers is that they wanted the richness of the editing experience they were used to from Word integrated throughout Outlook. While Internet Explorer 7.0 is great, it was never intended to be an editing tool," it said in a Knowledge Base article.

That reasoning was not good enough for many. Mailing list software creator David Greiner was one of those to first criticize the move shortly after it was revealed that Word would be the new rendering engine.

"Imagine for a second that the new version of IE7 killed off the majority of CSS support and only allowed table based layouts," he wrote in a Web log post in mid-January. "The web design world would be up in arms! Well, that's exactly what the new version of Outlook does to email designers."

Jonathan Nicol, a graphic designer, said that Microsoft had "screwed up royally" with the change. "None of these limitations is going to make the task of designing HTML emails impossible, but they will ensure that no advances are made in this field for a good number of years."

Broadsided by the criticism, Microsoft is now attempting to perform damage control. However, in the Knowledge Base article, it stops short of promising to add back the CSS and HTML support that e-mail designers are complaining about.

"The Word team is continually examining HTML and CSS support based on customer feedback," it said.

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