• Tell MS you want better formatted email in Outlook

    When I first heard about the “Outlook’s broken – let’s fix it” movement, it was like deja vu all over again. Those of you who read my stuff years ago know that I railed about sloppy formatted email rendering in Outlook 2003, and it seems that nobody cared.

    A brief history: in Outlook 2000, whenever you opened or previewed a formatted email message, Outlook cranked up Internet Explorer, behind the scenes, to “render” the formatted message. Starting with Outlook 2002 (the version in Office XP), you had the option of using the “normal” editor (which owed its existence to IE) or using something called WordMail (where Word was used instead of IE to render and edit the message). In Outlook 2003, WordMail became the norm.

    IE didn’t do a very good job of rendering email, and its manifest security holes provided wriggling room for untold legions of infected messages. Word did an even worse job of rendering email – but it was substantially more secure.

    The problem right now is a simple one: Word sucks as an email rendering machine. It doesn’t understand many common HTML constructs and because of that a message you view in Outlook 2007 can look positively awful compared to the same message viewed in Outlook 2000. On the other hand, you’re much less likely to get infected by a malicious message in Outlook 2007. Outlook 2000 runs around with a sign on its back saying, “Kick me.”

    Now, finally, a group has taken up the cause. The Email Standards Project explains, “The very early stages of the Email Standards Project have involved just a few passionate teams and individuals who decided to stop just complaining about HTML email standards and start doing something about it.” Like a breath of fresh air.

    What’s most important, to me, is that this group understands the source of the problem – Word’s poor HTML rendering. They aren’t trying to bring back IE as an Outlook rendering engine. Instead, they’re twittering to get Microsoft to improve Word, so email messages render properly in Outlook 2010.

    Want to send a message to Microsoft that you’re tired of poorly rendered email? Drop by the Outlook’s broken – Let’s fix it site and add your voice to the chorus of 20,000 and counting.

    UPDATE: Long Zheng at istartedsomething knows whereof he speaks. See his comments on the matter. I, too, am distressed that many of the people joining the drive are trying to get MS to replace Word with Internet Explorer as a rendering engine. As explained above, that would be a huge mistake. What we need is improved HTML rendering of formatted messages in Word.