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Microsoft sets Email design back 5 years

Microsoft sets Email design back 5 years

It was inevitable really – Microsoft have finally decoupled Internet Explorer from Microsoft Office.

With the release of Outlook 2007, Internet Explorer will no longer be used as the HTML rendering engine from within Outlook, instead using the Microsoft Word rendering engine within the Office suite. While this more clearly separates the browser from the operating system for anti-trust reasons, it has a negative impact on HTML email newsletters (irrespective of whether you are for or against them).

Outlook has approximately 75% of the corporate email market. As this represents huge volumes of HTML-capable clients, it’s not something that can be ignored given that most HTML email designers have been adopting more standards-based approaches including CSS. The problem is that Outlook 2007 no longer supports much of this. Here’s the headlines:

  1. No background images – Background images in divs and table cells are gone, meaning the image replacement technique is out the window.
  2. Poor background colour support – Give a div or table cell a background color, add some text to it and the background colour displays fine. Nest another table or div inside though and the background color vanishes.
  3. No support for float or position – Completely breaking any CSS based layouts right from the word go. Tables only.
  4. Shocking box model support – Very poor support for padding and margin, and you thought IE5 was bad!

Microsoft have released a full run down of what is and isn’t supported, including a downloadable validator that helps you validate your HTML for their engine. Word of warning though, it only works with Microsoft software and Dreamweaver.

This really is a game changer. Previously you could send a HTML email in the comfort that the majority of your recipients would have very good CSS support. Other email clients were also catching up. Thunderbird uses the Firefox rendering engine, the new Yahoo! Mail beta has great CSS support. Things were looking good for us CSS based email designers.

Unfortunately, that no longer applies. In the old days, if your email broke in Notes or Eudora, it was often an acceptable casualty, but if it broke in Outlook you’re more than likely ostracising too many recipients to justify your design approach. This certainly doesn’t spell the end for HTML email, it just takes us back 5 years where tables and nasty inline CSS was the norm.

Imagine for a second that the new version of IE7 killed off the majority of CSS support and only allowed table based layouts. The web design world would be up in arms! Well, that’s exactly what the new version of Outlook does to email designers.

You can read more about this in the original article at Campaign Monitor.

For email designers, there is a useful tool which helps validate HTML emails across the majority of email clients. The tool is called SiteVista and you can read more about it here.

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