January 17, 2007

Rich Mail: Sturm und Drang

Last week saw much developer/designer hand-wringing and hair pulling as the news became generally recognized that Outlook 2007 would no longer use IE to render rich email. Microsoft chose to decouple Internet Explorer and instead use Word's much more limited but perhaps more secure html engine, announcing the change in August of last year during the beta where few of us took notice.

Till now. Proscribed from future rich mail campaigns are background images, plug-in content (never a good idea to begin with), CSS positioning and floats, form elements and more, described in Microsoft articles Word 2007 HTML and CSS Rendering Capabilities in Outlook 2007 [1|2].

Shops hoping to take advantage of IE 7's improved standards support in the next version of Outlook, available now as a test-drive download and in a few weeks in atomic form, now face the prospect of scaling back existing designs and explaining to their clients why they must do so. I've so far been unable to find projected adoption numbers, but I think we can expect Outlook 2007 to be as successful as its predecessor and, over time, to replace the older, more HTML/CSS-capable versions without much attrition in the market place.

Posted by Lewis Francis at January 17, 2007 7:35 PM

Note that Microsoft's docs may not be entirely accurate; they claim that alt text is not supported but in my testing I see that it actually is. It's just that the Outlook 2007 user is unlikely to ever see the alt text unless an image resource is actually unavailable --this is because unless the sender has been added to the Safe Senders list, images are not downloaded automatically and in their place is instructions on how to enable the blocked images.

Posted by: Lewis Francis at January 19, 2007 7:13 PM

Another notable item uncovered during testing: Outlook 2007 automatically hot links email addresses found in your rich mail copy. Most email clients will do this for plain text mail, but this is the first time I've seen such in an html context.

Why Microsoft would choose to do this is a bit inexplicable, but can possibly be worked around by creating the link yourself and styling it to match your original design.

Posted by: Lewis Francis at January 19, 2007 7:16 PM
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