Microsoft's Excellent Decision to Use Word as a Rendering Engine for Outlook 2007.

I’ve spent a little bit too much time over the past three days researching and re-researching what the repercussions are of Microsoft’s decision to use its Word product, instead of Internet Explorer, to render HTML emails in the new Outlook. There are a few good blogs posts about the issue, which will increasingly affect many people who are starting to use Outlook 2007. Most of these come from the fine folks at Campaign Monitor, an email delivery company I’ve been with almost from the start (I dissected a Coudal email way back to see who they were using). And the ball really got rolling thanks to Kevin Yank’s great article on Sitepoint.
In order to see what kind of damage Outlook 2007 does to Web standards-based HTML emails, I tried a new online application by SiteVista. You can see what the MANOVERBOARD Telegraph, the email newsletter I send out semi-regularly, looks like with Microsoft’s Outlook 2002/XP and its newly released Outlook 2007.
Long story short: I’ve been trying to come up with a nice, pithy, easy-to-use statement about what this means for the few MANOVERBOARD clients for whom I designed and created HTML email newsletters using Web standards. (And, let me say this: Despite excellent support from and a valiant effort by Campaign Monitor, I consider myself fortunate that, as a designer, I only have a few HTML email clients.)
Thus, after a lot of thinking and work, here is my brief statement on the issue:
Using Web standards to create HTML emails is no longer possible because of Microsoft’s decision to use Word rather than HTML as its rendering engine in Outlook 2007. You can still create HTML emails with poor/complex/table-based code and they may look fine. Or you can send Web standards-based emails and just give up on anyone with Outlook 2007, as those folks will see a terrible mess. Or you can just send plain text emails, which are great (and superbly legible), except you’ll get poor reporting on your campaigns because good reports rely upon HTML and images being embedded in the emails you send.
All of these are bad solutions with the last one being the least bad, imho. This is what I will recommend to my clients who need or want an email newsletter, for now.
Postscript: My new understanding of all of this is that many of us designers and developers were trying to apply the beauty and elegance of Web standards to a medium (e.g. email) that has very competing needs (communication, marketing, file sending, and news) and stakeholders (email users, technology providers, ISPs, and software developers); a longer and more complex technological history than the Web browser; and, no governing organization or consortia (including the W3C) that have the teeth or cojones to police, enforce, or cajole companies to agree on standards for the rendering of emails.