Outlook 2010’s New Email Standard Leads to Marketers’ Headaches

I have this love-hate relationship with Microsoft. At one end I praise Bing for its fresh perspective towards delivering search results. On the other end I am bashing Internet Explorer for its black propaganda showing it’s a better browser over its competitors and MSN Messenger’s potentially dangerous ad-serving platform.

fixoutlookorgThis time it’s another product that’s yet to be released but whose beta version is now available: Microsoft Outlook 2010. This upcoming version is somewhat a replica of its predecessor from Office 2007 in terms of email rendering. Both have been using Microsoft Word instead of Internet Explorer to display email messages containing web standards such as CSS or background graphics. As a result, emails with

Microsoft apparently has a few reasons behind sticking to its plan:

1 Security
Using Word as email rendering system, messages are no longer delivered with risks of hidden web scripts that may compromise user security. “Word cannot run Web script or other active content that may threaten the security and safety of our customers,” says Microsoft executive William Kennedy as quoted by ComputerWorld.

2 Microsoft Add-ons
Using Microsoft Word instead of HTML emails in Outlook 2010 allows messages to be embedded with rich features that enable

I strongly feel that this move is good only for people who use Outlook email client and send to other Outlook users. For others it’s a misery to observe the cute and appealing SmartArts, tables and charts mangled as they are rendered in Thunderbird, Gmail or Apple Mail’s messages.

..we believe that Outlook provides a good mix of a rich user experience and solid interoperability with a wide variety of other e-mail programs.

I am not sure if Microsoft has a basis on this one.

Impact on email marketers
Campaign Monitor reports that Outlook 2007 has a market share of 6.62% as part of the whole Microsoft family (Outlook 2000, Outlook Express, etc) with more than 38%.

Though small in percentage, Outlook’s diversion can dent the performance of an email campaign. How will links from an HTML email look like on Outlook? Open rates may stay the same but click rates could suffer for campaigns loaded with Outlook users. Should we all revert with text formats to address this issue?

What’s with this interoperability Microsoft is harping about? Instead of adhering to what most email clients implement, it is trailblazing a new trend in how we compose and read emails.

Fix Outlook, a movement that calls for Microsoft to change its stance and support web standards in rendering emails has gathered support of some 24,000+ people (me included). It was established by Email Standards Project. However, Microsoft dismisses Email Standards Project as not a sanctioned group credible enough to raise concerns over standards in the industry.

The “Email Standards Project” does not represent a sanctioned standard or an industry consensus in this area. Should such a consensus arise, we will of course work with other e-mail vendors to provide rich support in our products. We are constantly working to improve our products and the experience that they give to our customers.

The only way to go for Microsoft is to update its Word rendering engine so it will be possible to compose and display standards-based HTML emails.

Update (15 Nov 2009): Have a look at a preview of Outlook 2010. It didn’t elaborate on the issue discussed above, but good to know what we might have missed using Outlook all these years.