Microsoft’s Mac Office team recently announced that the next version of Mac Office 2010 will replace the Entourage email client with a purpose-built for Mac version of Outlook. This is interesting as it suggests that Microsoft see the forthcoming Exchange support built into Mac OSX 10.6 as bit of a threat.
The current email client in Mac Office, Entourage, is a poor citizen of OSX 10.5 due to its single database that is not very compatible with OSX 10.5’s Time Machine back up function. So Entourage was at least due for an update, however, bringing Outlook to Mac at least makes things a bit more consistent between Windows and Mac Office suites. I dare say a number of Windows to Mac switchers will be quite happy to see the addition of Outlook.
Will Outlook for Mac’s HTML email support suck like it does on Windows?
With the announcement I think many web designer / developers might likely have the above question in mind! If you’re not in the habit of creating HTML format emails then you may not understand what the problem is, basically since the release of Office 2007 for Windows the rendering of HTML emails in Outlook took a turn for the worse. Outlook 2007 uses Word’s HTML rendering engine to display HTML emails, effectively taking several steps backward in regards to rendering support in modern email clients.
Due to the poor HTML support in Outlook on Windows, developing HTML email newsletters requires using HTML formatting that hasn’t seen the light of day since the heady days of the late 90’s, table based markup, very little support for CSS markup. If you want to read more about this then head over to the Email Standards Project for lots of good information, and in particular this post: “Microsoft to ignore web standards in Outlook 2010 – enough is enough”.
The Mac Office team have indicated they will make Outlook for Mac from the ground up as a true Mac application:
Outlook for Mac is being built from the ground up as a Mac OS X application using Cocoa. It will have a new database that delivers a reliable, high performance, and integrated experience with Mac OS X. Users will be able to back-up with Time Machine and search email, calendar and contacts with Spotlight.
So I’m reading from this that as it’s using Apple’s Cocoa frameworks that it will make use of the WebKit rendering that Cocoa provides to render HTML emails. As such it should have excellent HTML rendering capabilities, which incidentally the current Entourage application already has. So Mac users should have a good experience regardless of whether they use Apple’s Mail or Outlook email clients.
However, there’s a potential problem. The Windows Outlook team have so far stubbornly denied any need to fix the problem with HTML rendering in Outlook on Windows and indeed seem intent to release Outlook 2010 with the exact same rendering support. As the Outlook team seem to think that the Word HTML rendering engine is appropriate, will they mandate that Mac Outlook should render emails exactly the same way that the Outlook for Windows does? Will they make Word the rendering engine for HTML emails in Outlook for Mac?
If they don’t then basically they’ll have a potential lack of interoperability between Outlook on the different platforms, Outlook for Mac will offer good support for HTML email (as it already does with Entourage), and Outlook for Windows will suck. I’m not sure that Microsoft will be happy with that seeing as Office is one of their flagship products and will want to make the experience the same. The question is, if that is the case then which side will yield?
Email Standards are Web Standards
Regardless of your opinion on HTML emails* it’s a big issue, whether you like or dislike HTML format emails the reality is that they’re here to stay, support for web standards and good layout practices should be encouraged, regardless of whether that HTML is rendered in an email client or a web browser. The recent Fix Outlook campaign hopefully sent a strong message to Microsoft about how the development community feel about it. Let’s hope Outlook for Mac doesn’t come with the same support as it’s Windows counterpart and that the discrepancy between their rendering engines forces Microsoft to step up and make Outlook 2010 for Windows include improved support instead of dumbing down Outlook for Mac!
There’s a new site launched by a couple of employees from Microsoft, “Make Office Better”, it introduces it’s purpose stating:
Hi! We’re two Microsoft employees looking to collect customer ideas on how to improve Microsoft Office. If you’ve got a new feature idea or an idea on how to improve Microsoft Office, please share it here…and vote on other ideas you agree with. Through the magic of crowd-sourcing the best ideas should rise to the top.
What’s great about the ‘magic of crowd-sourcing’ in this case is that the number 1 Office issue that people want to see fixed is “Improve the HTML support in Outlook“. Well, they asked for feedback!
* And don’t say “HTML emails suck, everyone should just use plain text emails”, HTML emails will stop being used around the same time that everyone adopts XHTML 2. If you don’t like them then you can always use a mail client that can force the display in plain text!