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malevolent design weblog

This blog is now defunct, but you can find more stuff over at my personal site

Microsoft Kills Off CSS In Emails

All but the worst web developers have been constructing pages using CSS for years, but the way HTML emails are built has been forced to lag way behind. Some software (e.g. Lotus Notes) has always been terrible with HTML, webmail services strip out a lot of messages’ styling to avoid clashes with their pages, and all email clients/services have to remove potentially malicious content. Creating good-looking emails that work well for everyone can be tricky, but developers have accumulated enough knowledge to use some CSS with care.

Microsoft must’ve felt it hadn't pissed off enough web developers recently, so it’s now announced that Outlook 2007 will use Word to display emails, resulting in a new list of tighter restrictions for HTML emails. Many people are somewhat peeved.

Clearly there are good reasons for the change (consistency between viewing and composing, tighter Office integration, avoiding sharing IE vulnerabilities), but Microsoft has effectively killed off CSS layout in email for the foreseeable future. No business can afford to send out emails that look terrible in Outlook.

I’ve never been comfortable with the limitations and complications of CSS support in email clients and the testing burden it can create, so I’ve tended to reluctantly use tables and font tags to handle layout and typography, with little or no CSS. That approach isn’t badly affected by this latest move, but being stuck with outdated practices is depressing, and I may still have to sign up with a testing service or even buy Office for Windows (which I have no other use for) to make sure future emails look OK.

(Most of the commenters on Digg and elsewhere are completely missing the point, slagging off HTML email and going on about spam. This change won’t hinder anyone who misuses/abuses email, it just makes life slightly harder for conscientious developers trying to use more modern techniques.)


MS going back? What did you expect? They had to dump Longhorn (a monolithic mess, so patched it couldn't stand up on its own) and revert to Server 2003 with eye-candy patches (released as Vista). Buy MS Office to check how emails look? Wow.

— Seminole, 22nd Feb, 2:53am

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