The Outlook Is Bleak

Posted: 18/12/10

I Like The HTML Email Standard - There Are So Many To Choose From

A couple of projects that I've been working on recently have required "pretty" HTML email messages to be generated. You might think that this wouldn't be an issue, HTML is HTML, right? Wrong!

It's sad, but true that there are no standards for HTML in email. Some email clients are better than others at displaying HTML. Mozilla Thunderbird seems to have no problem at all displaying virtually any HTML elements. This comes as no surprise since it uses the same Gecko rendering engine you'll find in the Firefox browser.

The rot really sets in when Microsoft products are used. Outlook Express isn't too bad, but it has no idea how to process css background images such as

  • background-image: url('');

thus any fancy bullets in unordered lists just won't work.

The most stupid client of the lot, however, is Outlook 2007. For some obscure reason, Microsoft decided that using an IE7 derived engine was old hat and substituted the far less capable and archaic Word engine instead. Among its deficiencies are:

  • no support for background images (HTML or CSS)
  • no support for forms
  • no support for Flash, or other plugins (probably not a great loss actually!)
  • no support for CSS floats
  • no support for replacing bullets with images in unordered lists
  • no support for CSS positioning
  • no support for animated GIFs

All of this just makes for far more aggravation that is necessary and according to some took the whole HTML email scene back 5 years at a stroke.