Microsoft Responds To Outlook Standards Row

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Microsoft has responded to claims that Outlook 2010 will lack sufficient standards support.

Microsoft plans to use the Word rendering engine to display HTML e-mails, which the Email Standards Project claims lacks CSS support and thus will render those e-mails incorrectly.

The accusations, originally leveled by a group called the Email Standards Project, centered on Microsoft’s plans to use the Word rendering engine to display HTML e-mails in its upcoming e-mail client.

“This means for the next five years your e-mail designs will need tables for layout, have no support for CSS [Cascading Style Sheets] like float and position, no background images and lots more,” the group posted on a Website, According to a linked page from that site, the Email Standards Project consists of “a few passionate teams and individuals who decided to stop just complaining about HTML e-mail standards and start doing something about it.”

The ultimate goal of the project, says the Email Standards Project’s site, is to compel industrywide at some future date “a solid, consistent level of Web standards support when designing and building HTML e-mails.” One of the backers of the group is Freshview, which builds e-mail marketing software for Web designers and other clients.

Microsoft, which is currently ramping up for the release of its Windows 7 operating system, responded quickly to the group.

“While we don’t yet have a broadly available beta version of Microsoft Office 2010, we can confirm that Outlook 2010 does use Word 2010 for composing and displaying e-mail, just as it did in Office 2007,” William Kennedy, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Office Communications and Forms Team, wrote in a June 24 post on the Microsoft Office Outlook Team Blog. “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.”

Word, Kennedy said, “has always done a great job of displaying the HTML which is commonly found in e-mails around the world,” adding that Word offers benefits in that it cannot run Web script or active content that could threaten users’ security.

“There is no widely recognized consensus in the industry about what subset of HTML is appropriate for use in e-mail for interoperability,” Kennedy concluded. “The ‘Email Standards Project’ does not represent a sanctioned standard or an industry consensus in this area.”

In turn, the Email Standards Project launched a blog broadside, looking to refute Kennedy’s posting.

“As outlined in our original post, we are in no way advocating that Microsoft shift from using Word to create or render HTML e-mails,” Dave Greiner, a spokesperson for the group, wrote in a 25 June post. “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.”

Greiner goes on to suggest that a previous version of the e-mail client, Outlook 2000, offered “fantastic CSS support,” while the 2010 edition offers “significantly less” in that particular area. The posting follows with a list of recommendations for CSS support, including for background-image, background-position, float/clear, margin and padding—all of which the Project insists will help render e-mails correctly.

As for Kennedy’s suggestion that rendering through Word provides an extra layer of security, the Project contended that modern e-mail clients already cover that area through default blocking of script.

“Our push for standards is not advocating support for anything other than the correct rendering of CSS,” Greiner wrote. “We agree that JavaScript has no place in an e-mail client.”