After a grassroots group barraged Microsoft with tweets this week requesting that the upcoming Microsoft Office Outlook 2010 switch back to using Internet Explorer’s HTML engine to render e-mails instead of using Word, the software giant politely declined.
Instead, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has said that Outlook 2010 will follow Office 2007’s example by again using Word — despite the critics’ claims that Word delivers a far worse experience for readers and designers.
The dustup started as a result of a Twitter campaign launched by a group that calls itself the Email Standards Project. The group, led by e-mail marketing software vendor Freshview and Web designers Mark Wyner and Luke Stevens, describes itself as an organization that works with designers and e-mail client developers to improve support for Web standards and accessibility.
With that in mind, project leaders set up the FixOutlook.org Web site and began a Twitter campaign to spread the word about Word.
“Microsoft has confirmed they plan on using the Word rendering engine to display HTML e-mails in Outlook 2010,” a post reads on the Web site. “This means for the next five years, your e-mail designs will need tables for layout, have no support for [Cascading Style Sheet technology] like float and position, no background images, and lots more.”
The issue for Web designers is that a page that they’ve worked to fine-tune will be accurately displayed in the body of an e-mail if Outlook uses IE’s HTML rendering engine, but often does not appear correctly in Outlook 2007.
Releases of Outlook prior to Office 2007 used IE.
So far, the campaign seems to be gathering steam. According to a counter on the home page, just short of 22,000 tweets have been sent to Microsoft.
In response, Microsoft posted a blog entry, explaining the company’s decision to keep Word as Outlook’s rendering engine.
“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,” William Kennedy, corporate vice president of the Office communications and forms team, said in his post.
But the Email Standards Project fired back:
“We are in no way advocating that Microsoft shift from using Word to create or render HTML e-mails,” Freshview’s Dave Greiner wrote in a post on the site. “We’re asking that the HTML produced by the Word engine be standards-compliant. This in turn will ensure that the engine will correctly render standards-based e-mails.”
That’s all well and good, according to Microsoft — but it’s not that simple.
“There is no widely recognized consensus in the industry about what subset of HTML is appropriate for use in e-mail for interoperability,” Kennedy responded.
He also questioned the organization’s legitimacy.
“The ‘Email Standards Project’ does not represent a sanctioned standard or an industry consensus in this area,” Kennedy added.
But that hasn’t stopped users from urging that Microsoft switch back.
“Mr. Kennedy misses the point. The issue is … the Word 2007 rendering engine used in Outlook 2007 is far inferior to Internet Explorer engine used in Outlook 2003,” one user wrote on the project’s comment area of FixOutlook.org. “As someone who codes HTML e-mails for a living, it is ridiculous that we cannot reliably use padding, image floats, and background images in our e-mails.”
Microsoft is no stranger to complaints, and controversies, regarding its support of Web standards. The statement is reminiscent of Microsoft’s arguments on the topic of Web standards in IE8, which shipped in March.
Microsoft has claimed that IE8 is the most standards-compliant version of the browser so far.
The question of Microsoft’s support — or rather lack of it — for Web standards is also the subject of a complaint filed against it in the European Union in 2008.
Additionally, Microsoft has given in to users’ demands at times in the past. So a reversal isn’t out of the question.
In March 2008, Microsoft agreed to have the display defaults in its then-unreleased IE8 browser be set to its so-called “super standards mode” — the browser’s highest level of compatibility with official standards.
In doing so, it went against its earlier arguments that the vast majority of Web sites in the world have been tweaked to work best under IE6 and IE7, which had their own quirks about displaying Web pages.
The issues were similar, and the company ultimately gave in to users’ arguments.
That may not happen with Outlook, however. But with Office 2010 not due out until the first half of next year, the Email Standards Project tweet campaign still has a year make an impact.