Microsoft defends Outlook HTML decision

A Twitter campaign to overturn Microsoft's choice to use Word to render HTML in Outlook has caught the software giant's attention, but don't expect changes.

The E-mail Standards Project is urging Twitter users to pressure Microsoft to support better HTML formatting in Outlook.
The E-mail Standards Project is urging Twitter users to pressure Microsoft to support better HTML formatting in Outlook. Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Dave Greiner was distressed in 2007 when Microsoft decided to use Microsoft Word's relatively rudimentary technology to display HTML-encoded e-mail in Outlook. Now, facing the extension of that choice into the forthcoming Office 2010, he's agitating more loudly for change.

Greiner, a member of the informal E-mail Standards Project group, set up a Web site called FixOutlook.org and urged everybody who agrees with his position to publicize their dismay on Twitter; more than 19,000 did so by Wednesday afternoon.

Microsoft, while encouraging feedback on the matter, stood by its decision in a response published on the Microsoft Office Team blog.

"We've made the decision to continue to use Word for creating e-mail messages because we believe it's the best e-mail authoring experience around, with rich tools that our Word customers have enjoyed for over 25 years...Word enables Outlook customers to write professional-looking and visually stunning e-mail messages," said William Kennedy, corporate vice president of the Office Communications and Forms Team. And, he added, "For e-mail viewing, Word also provides security benefits that are not available in a browser: Word cannot run web script or other active content that may threaten the security and safety of our customers."

So why the fuss? Microsoft previously used Internet Explorer's HTML rendering engine to display e-mails that had been formatted with HyperText Markup Language, which was developed to describe Web pages to Web browsers. That meant sophisticated e-mails that looked as polished as Web pages could be sent.

Microsoft argues that most folks don't want to use some advanced Web design tool to send a fancy e-mail, though, and the company has a point. I differ, though, on how well Word handles placement of graphical elements and such, though--it may be familiar, but it's no desktop publishing machine.

For Web pages, HTML is an imperfect standard, but at least it's one that's recognized as authoritative. Microsoft argues that HTML in e-mail is a different beast, though. "There is no widely recognized consensus in the industry about what subset of HTML is appropriate for use in e-mail for interoperability," Kennedy said.

Greiner sees an "obvious solution," according to his blog post on the matter.

"By updating the Word engine so it can compose and render standards based HTML, all of these problems are solved. Microsoft can have its pie and eat it too," he said.

Outlook shifted from using IE to Word for rendering HTML e-mail, which makes life harder for those who want to send elaborately formatted messaages.
Outlook shifted from using IE to Word for rendering HTML e-mail, which makes life harder for those who want to send elaborately formatted messages. Flickr user Freshview
 

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