Thursday 18 January 2007
People working with HTML email have always had under-represented voices in the way various software vendors implement HTML and CSS into their mail software. Recently, Microsoft Outlook 2007 has made major changes to the way Outlook renders email, and developers are naturally, and understandably concerned.
To that end I took the question to colleagues at Microsoft in order to see what I could find out. I have to admit that after having been so focused on working with IE7 and other prioritizations, it never occurred to me or anyone else at WaSP in the Microsoft / WaSP Task Force to even ask about rendering in Office products. What a kerfuffle, as Lou would tell Andy in Little Britain.
As it turns out, in past versions, Outlook used two rendering engines. IE’s for reading content, and Word for composing messages. What this meant was that if you were replying or forwarding HTML emails, previous versions of Outlook would first use IE’s rendering engine to view it, then would switch over to the compose engine, Word.
While wrangling this is a no-brainer for Web designers and developers accustomed to working with a variety of tools, typical users were finding enough inconsistencies between what they were creating and what they were receiving that it became apparent the rendering and editing engines should be the same. This makes sense from a programmatic as well as use standpoint in the long term as well.
So, the IE engine was removed and the updated Word engine is now serving both needs within Outlook 2007. Of course, some stuff is breaking. Fortunately, there’s some documentation to help designers and developers know just what is and isn’t supported in Outlook 2007, at least theoretically. No, this isn’t fun news, as it means we’ll be learning what’s problematic as we go, and at worst disrupting our own user/customer relationships.
So when we’re done kicking and screaming over Yet Another Interoperability Muckup that we will have to account for, let us try to dry our tears, put on bandaids where necessary, give magic kisses and plan how we’re going to fix this.
I’m currently gathering and doing some tests to compare what the documentation says and the rendering of Office 2007 actually does. It’ll become a bit clearer where the holes are after we begin to put the software through its paces.
Please comment as to your experiences and include any links to problem cases. I promise to make sure the top priorities and concerns get in front of the right eyes. Microsoft was very clear in letting me know that if we want a feature and need it and get an organized list to them, those issues will be addressed and prioritized as the new engine develops in response to developer needs, too.
See the following sources for more details on which HMTL and CSS standards are and aren’t supported:
Enter your woes and wishes in the comment field below.