Sunday, January 21, 2007

Office Upgrade Agita Ahead

Everything I've read about the new Microsoft Office 2007 makes it sound like a good program - what we can only wish it had been in the past. Of course, there's nothing about it that sounds like it will make it any easier to do the things I use office for - writing, spreadsheets, and presentations. Mainly, it sounds like at first it will cause document compatibility headaches, followed by a year of "where did that feature go?" until we're all used to it - and then the next Office upgrade can come along.

And it looks like it will cause a specific marketing headache, because the way Outlook handles HTML email is changing.

A quiet change Microsoft has made in the rendering engine used by Outlook 2007 is beginning to sink in among individuals who have gotten accustomed to having the Internet Explorer (IE) engine render HTML e-mail messages. And the reaction of many is one of anger and disbelief.

"While the IE team was soothing the tortured souls of web developers everywhere with the new, more compliant Internet Explorer 7, the Office team pulled a fast one, ripping out the IE-based rendering engine that Outlook has always used for email, and replacing it with … drum roll please … Microsoft Word," according to a post by Kevin Yank on SitePoint blogs.

Yank continued: "Not only that, but this new rendering engine isn’t any better than that which Outlook previously used—indeed, it’s far worse. With this release, Outlook drops from being one of the best clients for HTML email support to the level of Lotus Notes and Eudora."

On the "Campaign Monitor" site, blogger David Grenier outlined some of the Outlook changes that will take effect, as of Office 2007.

In a post entitled "Microsoft takes email design back five years," Greiner said the rendering-engine changes messes up background images; provides poor background color support; and lacks support for float or position "completely breaking any CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) based layouts right from the word go."

Whee! That should make your future email campaigns fun, shouldn't it?

Why is Microsoft doing this?

"Outlook can still render HTML image content — users just need to select it, as indicated in this (Office Online help) article," the spokeswoman said. "But folks can still opt to display in HTML in Outlook, the same as they did in 2003 and XP. (There are three options for displaying email — plain text, rich text, and HTML.)"

The spokeswoman did not respond to a question as to why Microsoft made the change in e-mail rendering engines.

It doesn't matter why, I guess; it's reality. Watch for more news on how to do HTML email in the brave new world of Office 2007.

(I have stopped using Outlook; it's bloated and slow, and after hunting around for good alternatives, I'm currently using a combination of Thunderbird for email and EssentialPIM for the rest of Outlook's functions, with good results. Does anybody have any good Office-avoidance strategies?)

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