Outlook 2010 Rendering Compatibility

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outlook2010The launch of the Microsoft Office 2010 is pencilled for next year (surprising to see the dates matching!) and the first release for testing – the Technical Preview, which is invite-only – has been released.

This has generated a fair bit of talk between email designers, due to the notorious perceived failings of Outlook 2007’s HTML rendering, and whether this will be continued in Outlook 2010. There has even been a bit of a storm whipped up on Twitter, due to the aim of fixoutlook.org to send a rather loud message to the chaps at Microsoft.

As a quick recap, for Outlook 2007, Microsoft took the decision to use the HTML rendering engine (which reads the code and decides how to place elements on the page) from Microsoft Word, as this is also the system that is used to write emails within Outlook. Of course, this synergy between creation and display has obvious benefits for Outlook users, who can be sure of how their email is going to appear when it reaches its recipient (as long as they are also using Outlook!?)

However the problems arise when we realise that the rendering engine within Word has some serious failings (think: float and background-image), and in Microsoft’s own words, is detailed as supporting:

“a subset of the standard HTML 4.01 specification, […] the Internet Explorer 6.0 HTML specification [and] a subset of the standard Cascading Stylesheet Specification, Level 1.”

So this means that designers of HTML email have a hard time getting emails to render as desired in Outlook 2007, not only with some features not displaying (such as background images and animated GIFS), but with attributes like font size, margin and padding having different effects from the behaviour expected from a standards-compliant web browser.

Of course, designers would like the opportunity of a new Outlook version to address these issues, and there was even a response from a senior member of the Microsoft Office team. He largely centred on the compatibility of sending and receiving Word-based emails within Outlook, but proceeded to write that there were no defined standards for HTML in email. True, the Email Standards Project doesn’t have any official standing, but surely the web standards that define HTML are enough!? Another developer in the Microsoft Office team thinks so, and has submitted an internal bug report to that extent, although he does not work directly on the Outlook project.

Many of the campaigners go too far in my opinion, by asking for the Internet Explorer engine to be used, as it was in versions of Outlook preceeding 2007. I would much rather see the Word engine improved to the point of complying with web standards. Of course, we only have to look at Internet Explorer to realise that wish would be an impossibility, but surely it would be reasonable to expect Outlook/Word to support the same feature set as the recently superceeded IE7?

About Chris Minett

As our Technical Operations Manager, Chris oversees and brings together the Client Services, Product Support and Development Teams. He has previously worked for four years as a Developer in our core Maxemail development, after having joined Emailcenter in 2008 as Campaign Manager and moving to Implementation Manager in 2009. Follow on for more email marketing insights.

  • Edd

    I disagree about Outlook having the same functionality as IE7. If JavaScript was supported in emails then spammers would have a field day. However, how can Microsoft expect you to pay for Outlook when it supports less HTML and CSS than Hotmail that they offer for free.

  • It’s not so much about having all the functionality of IE – including the client-side scripting that you suggest – but simply to use the same level of rendering engine for HTML and CSS that’s available in Internet Explorer.

    Unfortunately, since originally writing this article, Microsoft have announced that they are to continue using the Word rendering engine in Outlook 2010, without adding the major improvements needed to bring this up to the level that so many designers would like to see.

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