Why is the rendering engine in Outlook so bad?


M

Matt

I'm a web developer currently building an HTML email for a client.

I just wanted to say that Outlook has ruined my day again. So now, once
again I'm trying to figure out how I justify to a client the hours I have
spent trying to get simple, standards-compliant code to display correctly in
Outlook.

I have a feature request: a Microsoft hosted page containing an official
apology about the rendering engine in Outlook that I can direct my clients
to, to save me spending yet more of my time explaining why Outlook is so
annoying and expensive to develop for.

Thank You
 
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R

Roady [MVP]

Other mail clients are not much better and web based mail clients are even
worse. An e-mail it not "the web" and should not be treated as such either.

What you can and cannot use in Word/Outlook 2007 is documented and published
by Microsoft at the following 2 locations;
http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa338201.aspx
http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa338200.aspx

As said, the feature set of most other mail clients are even smaller so
there are more limiting factors than just the rendering engine of
Word/Outlook 2007.
 
V

VanguardLH

Matt said:
I'm a web developer currently building an HTML email for a client.

I just wanted to say that Outlook has ruined my day again. So now, once
again I'm trying to figure out how I justify to a client the hours I have
spent trying to get simple, standards-compliant code to display correctly in
Outlook.
Outlook is an e-mail client, not a web browser. Don't expect ANY e-mail
client to render your HTML e-mails exactly as you see them. With HTML, you
can *never* guarantee the recipient will see the content exactly the same as
you see it. Besides, most of what you can do in HTML will get blocked by
the vast majority of e-mail clients, anyway, like any scripting, animation,
etc. Gee, you claim to be a "developer" and you don't know this?

If you want your users to open your message in a web browser then either put
the page online somewhere and give a link to to the recipient so they end up
opening their web browser to see that page, or attach your web page as an
..html attachment so it opens in their web browser. If you want the
rendering support of a web browser then USE A WEB BROWSER to view the
content!

A screwdriver can be used as a hammer but it wasn't designed for that
purpose. Don't expect a screwdriver to work well as a hammer.
I have a feature request: a Microsoft hosted page containing an official
apology about the rendering engine in Outlook that I can direct my clients
to, to save me spending yet more of my time explaining why Outlook is so
annoying and expensive to develop for.
Create your own web page for YOUR apology to your ignorant users. Of
course, the time it takes you to tell them the URL to your apology page
would take just as much time as stating "E-mail clients are NOT web
browsers."
 
M

Matt

Roady,
Thanks for the response. I honestly didn't think the antiquated word HTML
rendering engine could be defended! It is a genuine shame the fact that
"Other mail clients are not much better" is used to justify Outlook's
shortcomings.

So what if they are not much better*? Why not make the most popular email
client the best?
*(with a few exceptions - apple mail and thunderbird are particularly good).

I'd rather not spend too much time documenting the shortcomings of Outlook's
rendering engine as they are hugely documented across the internet,
highlights include:
http://www.email-standards.org/clients/
http://www.campaignmonitor.com/css/ (showing how outlook CSS support has
got *worse* since 2003?!)
http://www.campaignmonitor.com/blog/post/2393/microsoft-takes-email-design-b/



Diane,
Thanks for the reply. However please don't patronise me. I don't send 'bulk
emails' and I do my very best not to 'over-design' anything. My clients ask
me to me to produce newsletters for their subscribers that are visually
compelling and engaging or at the very least have professional standard of
simple typography, spacing and alignment (all of which Outlook make hard to
achieve). I have been designing and developing using HTML (and CSS) for
eleven years and generally speaking you're right - it is not "all that hard
to do". It only becomes hard when working around the quirks and bugs present
in Microsoft products, in particular (and somewhat famously) Internet
Explorer 6/7 and when writing HTML emails: Outlook 2007 (and now 2010).

While I agree of course that "email is not simply web pages viewed in a
browser" the reality is that like it or not, HTML email is here to stay. My
thoughts are somewhat close to those documented here: (please take the time
to read if you haven't already - there really are some legitimate points)
http://www.email-standards.org/why
http://www.campaignmonitor.com/blog/post/2468/why-we-need-web-standards-supp-1/

I also agree that "simple is better" - this is true of almost everything.
But can you remind me again what is that is wrong with giving developers the
tools and the ability to innovate and push new ideas and methods?

To be honest, as usual it looks like I may as well get used to it. The fact
that Outlook 2010 uses the same antiquated rendering engine (originally
designed for a word processor?) means I will be unfortunately using these
ancient methods of building emails for some time to come..
 
M

Matt

Roady,
Thanks for the response. I honestly didn't think the antiquated word HTML
rendering engine could be defended! It is a genuine shame the fact that
"Other mail clients are not much better" is used to justify Outlook's
shortcomings.

Of the clients with any decent market share, they may not be much better,
but they *are* better. And besides, so what if they are not much better?* Why
not make the most popular email client the best?
*(with a few exceptions - apple mail and thunderbird are particularly good,
Gmail particularly bad).

I'd rather not spend too much time documenting the shortcomings of Outlook's
rendering engine as they are hugely documented across the internet,
highlights include:
http://www.email-standards.org/clients/
http://www.campaignmonitor.com/css/ (showing how outlook CSS support has
got *worse* since 2003?!)
http://www.campaignmonitor.com/blog/post/2393/microsoft-takes-email-design-b/



Diane,
Thanks for the reply. However please don't patronise me. I don't send 'bulk
emails' and I do my very best not to 'over-design' anything. My clients ask
me to me to produce newsletters for their subscribers that are visually
compelling and engaging or at the very least have professional standard of
simple typography, spacing and alignment (all of which Outlook make hard to
achieve). I have been designing and developing using HTML (and CSS) for
eleven years and generally speaking you're right - it is not "all that hard
to do". It only becomes hard when working around the quirks and bugs present
in Microsoft products, in particular (and somewhat famously) Internet
Explorer 6/7 and when writing HTML emails: Outlook 2007 (and now 2010).

While I agree of course that "email is not simply web pages viewed in a
browser" the reality is that like it or not, HTML email is here to stay. My
thoughts are somewhat close to those documented here: (please take the time
to read if you haven't already - there really are some legitimate points)
http://www.email-standards.org/why
http://www.campaignmonitor.com/blog/post/2468/why-we-need-web-standards-supp-1/

I also agree that "simple is better" - this is true of almost everything.
But can you remind me again what is that is wrong with giving developers the
tools and the ability to innovate and push new ideas and methods?

To be honest, as usual it looks like I may as well get used to it. The fact
that Outlook 2010 uses the same antiquated rendering engine (originally
designed for a word processor?) means I will be unfortunately using these
ancient methods of building emails for some time to come..
 
M

Matt

Hi VanguardLH,
Of course I know that scripting, animation etc are not viable in email?
Where did I suggest otherwise? And like I said before I spend every working
day of my life building and testing websites and email in a different
browsers and email clients (and have done for 11 years) so again, I *know*
the recipient will never see content the same way! The truth is, most other
email clients (and browsers) do a much better and more consistent (and bug
free) job of rendering. This is fact! Seriously, do some research.

When the internet itself was 'born' in 1973
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet) it was not designed originally to
show video, play music, have online shops, provide the ability to book
flights and tickets, etc etc etc.. but it now does. So your analogy of a
hammer and a screwdriver makes no sense? Like it or not HTML email is not
going anywhere. Other email clients (eg apple mail, thunderbird, even many
mobile email clients) have shown that is perfectly possible to code a message
once and have it display perfectly well in both browsers and email clients.
Why make developers have to do more work? My question is why use the (very
old) word rendering engine when the passable explorer 8 engine exists.
Outlook 2003 used to use explorer, why have we gone backwards?

Did you take the time to read any of the links I posted above?
Please don't jump to assumptions before replying.
 
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M

Matt

In many ways I agree - *I* don't want crap in my emails and I try not to work
for clients who do. Though for example a newsletter that I have signed up for
is welcome in my inbox. Even more so if it is well designed with professional
use of typography and layout.

I think you may be bit mixed up about what it is I am saying regards word. I
hand code every site and email I build using dedicated code editors - the
thought of using word to do HTML editing would cause me to find another line
of work. My point is that since 2007, Outlook has used the same HTML
rendering engine built into word *not* the rendering engine built into
internet explorer. Outlook 2003 used to use internet explorer for its engine
but for some unfathomable reason outlook 2007 (and now 2010) use word's
crippled HTML rendering engine, hence HTML emails that have extremely limited
potential for design innovation that are unable to properly display clean,
semantic, modern HTML and CSS standards.

It used to be Internet Explorer 6 that caused web designers and developers
to want to find new jobs but thankfully that browser is finally dying a (very
slow) death. Unfortunately just as Microsoft appeared to be realising that
good support for open standards are the way forward (Explorer 9 is looking
very good in beta), Outlook 2010 pushes email back another 5 years.

Anyway, I'm going to stop now. This little rant has is nothing new, I'm just
one of thousands of developers experiencing the same thing:
http://fixoutlook.org/
 
B

Brian Tillman [MVP-Outlook]

Why make developers have to do more work? My question is why use the (very
old) word rendering engine when the passable explorer 8 engine exists.
Outlook 2003 used to use explorer, why have we gone backwards?
Because the European Union made Microsoft unbundle IE, so mail clients that
used to rely on the IE rendering engine being available can no longer do that.
 
V

VanguardLH

Matt said:
In many ways I agree - *I* don't want crap in my emails and I try not to work
for clients who do. Though for example a newsletter that I have signed up for
is welcome in my inbox. Even more so if it is well designed with professional
use of typography and layout.

I think you may be bit mixed up about what it is I am saying regards word. I
hand code every site and email I build using dedicated code editors - the
thought of using word to do HTML editing would cause me to find another line
of work. My point is that since 2007, Outlook has used the same HTML
rendering engine built into word *not* the rendering engine built into
internet explorer.
In pre-2007 versions of Outlook, the user could chose which program to
render e-mails: Outlook's embedded editor (via methods from libraries for
IE) or Word. With version 2007, Microsoft forced all Outlook users to use
Word. There is no choice. If you install Outlook as part of an Office
suite, you get stuck using Word to both compose and display HTML-formatted
e-mails. If you install a standalone version of Outlook 2007, a stub of
Word 2007 is included to still force you to use word for composing and
displaying HTML-formatted e-mails. Tis one of the reasons that I choose to
upgrade from OL2002 to OL2003 and not bother with OL2007.

I really can't tell you why Microsoft decided to force 2007 version users to
use Word for editing & showing HTML-formatted e-mails. Besides Word not
being a deficient HTML viewer, there is the added bloat of having to load
Word to do e-mails. It's like trying to filet a fish with a Swiss Army
knife instead of a single flexible thin-bladed filet knife. Wrong tool for
the job.
It used to be Internet Explorer 6 that caused web designers and developers
to want to find new jobs but thankfully that browser is finally dying a (very
slow) death. Unfortunately just as Microsoft appeared to be realising that
good support for open standards are the way forward (Explorer 9 is looking
very good in beta), Outlook 2010 pushes email back another 5 years.
Other e-mail clients (well, the common ones that I have trialed) do much
better than Outlook 2007. Pre-2007 versions of Outlook were okay since they
relied on IE to render HTML-formatted e-mails. Microsoft pushing Word in
2007 is what ****ed over reliably rendered HTML-formatted e-mails. Outlook
remains the number one e-mail client in use so you'll have to decide whether
to make your e-mails look good to Outlook 2007 users along with compatible
results for pre-2007 Outlook users and users of other e-mail clients, or to
go with valid HTML code and put links in your e-mails to that web page or
attach it to the e-mails (so they open in a web browser).

While Microsoft has learned to become more compliant with the rest of the
web community as regards its web browser, the Word group seems more of a
closed shop and is heading off on their own path. While Microsoft has
pandered to some pressure to make Word more standards compliant, they still
have a penchant to orient Word to proprietary standards under Microsoft's
thumb. Perhaps the doc group considers standardization a threat to their
job security. If they used open standards then anyone could create products
that did what Word does without fear of piracy concerns or licensing costs.
 
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Joined
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I don't think is a developer problem. What you should know, Matt, is that ANYTHING that is Web + Microsoft will get you in trouble, ANYTHING.
Because Microsoft people is SO SMART, that they use the render of a TEXT PROCESSOR (Word) for EMAILS, when I think we all agree Email = Internet = Most common web browsers, not TEXT EDITORS.

So yeah, (Microsoft + web) = Crap.
 

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