One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Microsoft made great leaps forward with IE8, and just when I start thinking they deserve a nice pat on the back for embracing standards, they give me another reason to lose faith in them.

The recent announcement is that Outlook 2010, like Outlook 2007, will use Microsoft Word for it’s rendering engine. No…you read that right…Word’s rendering engine. A rendering engine that doesn’t support simple CSS statements like float, width or height. Here’s their stance on why they’re opting to use the Word rendering engine again:

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, with rich tools that our Word customers have enjoyed for over 25 years. Our customers enjoy using a familiar and powerful tool for creating e-mail, just as they do for creating documents. Word enables Outlook customers to write professional-looking and visually stunning e-mail messages. William Kennedy Corporate Vice President, Office Communications and Forms Team

Now I understand their desire to allow their users to create “visually stunning” emails easily. However, the side effect of their current method of enabling that is that they force anyone creating HTML emails to tailor to their poor support of current HTML and CSS standards. Unfortunately, the team behind Outlook apparently doesn’t think these standards apply to email. They claim that there is “no widely-supported consensus in the industry about what subset of HTML is appropriate for use in e-mail for interoperability.” Really?

In response to their announcement, fixoutlook.org was set up and encouraged Twitter users to retweet in protest of the decision. At the time of their statement, over 20,000 people had tweeted the message. I understand that Twitter users are only a subset of the people who will be using and developing for Outlook 2010, but still….how can 20,000 people, many of whom are developers and designers who work with these technologies daily, not demonstrate some sort of consensus? Even if not, wouldn’t the logical move be to try to support as much of the HTML and CSS standards as possible?

In the meantime, this really sends an inconsistent message about Microsoft’s willingness to play nicely with others. While the IE8 team made a commitment to improving their standards support significantly, the team behind Outlook 2010 is ignoring them and is forcing everyone else to make the effort to play along with them, making it very difficult for innovation across the board.

If you’re on Twitter, head over to fixoutlook.org and be sure to add your name to the list of people who realize how bad of an idea this is. If you’re not on Twitter, how about telling the Outlook team your thoughts on their article defending their choice to use the Word rendering engine. Let’s find out how many people equal a consensus.

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