Microsoft answers Outlook 2007 critics on rendering-engine changes

Microsoft answers Outlook 2007 critics on rendering-engine changes

Summary: Microsoft is preparing a new Knowledge Base (KB) article that will attempt to answer questions raised by critics of changes it made to the rendering engine in Outlook 2007 that they claim are killing backwards compatibility.

TOPICS: Microsoft

Microsoft is attempting to appease Office 2007 users who have been up-in-arms over the company's decision to change the rendering engine in Outlook 2007. But the Softies are stopping short of promising to make changes to the product in order to restore backwards compatibility.

Microsoft was caught off-guard by the outcry resulting from the Outlook 2007 rendering-engine changes, said Business Division Corporate Vice President Chris Capossela. Microsoft decided to make the Word 2007 rendering engine the default back in the beta-testing phase. Microsoft received overwhelmingly positive feedback from testers on the move, Capossela said.

Starting in early 2007, however, a number of bloggers began complaining vociferiously that the rendering-engine changes broke their e-mail newsletters.

Microsoft is preparing a new Knowledge Base (KB) article that will attempt to answer questions raised by the rendering-engine critics.

"In past versions, Outlook actually used two rendering engines – Internet Explorer’s engine was used for reading content, and then Word was used for editing content when a user was composing messages," according to the KB article, the final version of which Microsoft has yet to post to its Web site. "If you were replying or forwarding HTML emails, previous versions of Outlook would first use Internet Explorer’s rendering engine to view it, then would have to switch over to Word, the compose engine, when you were replying."

The article continues:

"The Word team made advancements in the 2007 release in how Word 2007 handled HTML content, based on HTML and CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) standards. Based on customer feedback and the opportunities we had available, the Outlook and Word teams made the decision to unify the rendering and editing engine in Outlook by using Word’s engine and give users a superior editing experience by using Word."

In the questions and answers section of the KB article, Microsoft explains why it decided to make the change:

Q: "What's the justification? Doesn't this make it harder for Web designers to create HTML email messages--and harder for Outlook users to receive well-designed messages?"

A: "While there are some HTML and CSS attributes that aren’t currently supported by Word’s rendering engine, the capabilities that our customers most wanted for their HTML newsletters are supported by Outlook 2007. See and for more details on what HMTL and CSS standards are and aren’t supported."

Q: "Why doesn't Microsoft use the same standards for Outlook 2007 as in Internet Explorer 7.0?"

A: "Customers using Outlook don’t just want to display HTML content, the way they do in their browser, but also have an expectation that they should be able to author that content as well.

"A big thing we heard from customers is that they wanted the richness of the editing experience they were used to from Word integrated throughout Outlook. While Internet Explorer 7.0 is great, it was never intended to be an editing tool. That’s why we made the decision to use Word’s new HTML rendering engine for both reading and authoring content, which had been improved based on HTML and CSS standards. This allowed us to unify the rendering and editing engines together, rather than forcing customers using Outlook to use two different rendering engines (one for rendering HTML, the other for editing)."

Q: "Are there any plans to add support for the other HTML and CSS standards to Word’s engine?"

A: "The Word team is continually examining HTML and CSS support based on customer feedback."

Here's your chance. Any feedback for Microsoft, Outlook users?

Update: Tech pundit Chris Pirillo had some definite opinions on this one when I asked him for his two cents on Microsoft's decision to change rendering engines in Outlook 2007.

"I thought it quite odd that many HTML emails (Lockergnome's included) were rendering funny. AS A MATTER OF FACT, I always clicked the 'Report a Rendering Problem' button in the beta - so "should be no surprise" is likely referring to them not understanding what we want.

"We don't want Word as our rendering engine.

"Who in their RIGHT MIND uses Word as an HTML editor?! WHO!? TELL ME!??!?!?! WHO ON GOD'S GREEN EARTH USES MICROSOFT WORD TO VIEW OR EDIT HTML!??!?!?!!??!"Word 2007, on its own, as a document editor, is pretty freakin' sweet - but an HTML editor or viewer?!?!?!

Why stop there? Why not use Notepad to view BMP images? Why not use Windows Live Messenger to edit video?

"It... just... makes... no... sense."

Topic: Microsoft


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • No issues

    I have only had Office 2007 a couple of days, but no issues so far. I think I like having all the Word tools availible when I am answering/composing emails. But I deal with a lot of emails in a day so I seldom have time for anything very fancy.
  • Microsoft sells an alternative to Outlook called Evolution

    The code is about 4 years old and Microsoft promotes Evolution via the Novell/Microsoft SUSE Linux coupons - now oversubsribed to Banks and Walmart. You also have to realize that Vista was to have replaced the file system with "something database" and that exchange server is not SQL 2005. Bottom line - Microsoft can not afford to base its future on Outlook. Outlook (AKA out of luck) has been the source of viral infections/ DOS attacks etd. There are many outlook like email products.

    The question not asked in the article is was the engine replaced for some legal reason. I suspect Microsoft may have violated some patent/copyright like the company did with its browser. In the latter case Microsoft should just pay the 480 million multiple courts say is owed the University of California Berkelely, rather than make Active-X and Java components awkward and slow with a script wrapper.
    • Who cares?

      No one!
  • Unsatisfiable!

    People complain they want new innovation and better features but want to be able to do the same ole lame stuff they did in the past so they can continue to be lazy as usual. C'mon people! Get up off your duff and learn a new way of doing things. Quit being so dang lazy. Technology is advancing. You will either get with the program OR be left behind wining about why MS changed their product; it IS their product right? and they CAN change it in whatever way they want. Don't like it - don't use it! If you have no choice (cause your job makes you use it), then deal with it or find a new job. As for all the wining, for cryin our loud - shut up already!

    Average consumers want new features and better programming. Only this small group of so-called critics (the Unsatisfied) will complain! They are getting to the point where their "cry wolf" is falling on deaf ears; they are borderlining being uncredible.
  • Just One More Tiny Little Tooth

    On the gear to force adoption of Vista and
    usurp control of the internet, while calling
    it an improvement for the benefit of those
    like andrej770 who suck up anything
    Microsoft lays out and praise them for it.

    The questions ARE the ANSWERS:
    "What's the justification? Doesn't this
    make it harder for Web designers to create
    HTML email messages–and harder for Outlook
    users to receive well-designed messages?"

    To assist in forcing the adoption of Outlook
    "While there are some HTML and CSS
    attributes that aren’t currently supported
    by Word’s rendering engine, the capabilities
    that our customers most wanted for their
    HTML newsletters are supported by Outlook

    Of course poor Andre and his compadres can't
    (or won't) even read the lines, let alone
    read between the lines.
    Ole Man
  • Speed is the issue

    During the beta, there were severe rendering issues with some complex HTML newsletters, but those were solved for me by RTM. There may be tiny issues remaining, but nothing that I've noticed, and I get a lot of them.

    What is an issue, and what MS didn't respond to in the beta, is rendering speed of complex HTML newsletters (not simple HTML text). It's unacceptably slow on many of them (e.g. CNN AM Quicknews), sometimes several times slower than Outlook 2003. That desperately needs fixing, but I've been saying that since Beta 2 (RTM is only marginally faster than it).
  • Like Chris Pirillo is in his right mind...

    Another overreaction from Chris Pirillo. The fact that he wants to spend more time on formatting his Lockergnome newsletter than all his readers combined are actually looking at it, is not a realistic resemblance of everyday email usage. Most of that email correspondence can easily be done in Plain Text as well so the fact that Word/Outlook 2007 doesn?t support some (advanced) features doesn?t have any impact on most of us.

    Did you notice that there are more mail clients out there that require their own layout tweaking or are you solely designing to include each and every feature that is not supported by Outlook 2007 just to prove your point? Displaying advanced formatted newsletters in Gmail isn?t exactly looking pretty either.

    I know you have a lot of followers all around the world and I do think that sometimes you have a real good point. Not on this occasion though, not on what was quoted in this article. If you really want to use your voice on this matter use it for the parts that are broken and actually do have a real impact on people; accessibility support.

    Please read up here for my view on this issue and feel free to discuss it afterwards;

    Robert Sparnaaij [MVP-Outlook]
    Roady [MVP-Outlook]
  • E-mail clients other then Outlook hopefully adopted...

    I think telling people in their newsletters that Outlook 2007 is unsupported is the best choice here, then offer them a download of Mozilla Thunderbird, since it doesn't have these problems. That way the customer gets a better e-mail client and the newsletters can remain as is.
  • RE: Microsoft answers Outlook 2007 critics on rendering-engine changes

    I admit, the article is not new, but I really wanted to say that new MS WORD 2010 is just amazing! Its Outlook works flawlessly and the design is adorable! It's pretty much a step forward. I used it to record the changelog for Youtube video downloader and it operated perfectly for me.
  • RE: Microsoft answers Outlook 2007 critics on rendering-engine changes

    I still like th 2007 version although it's 2011 year and we can use MO 2010. I even tutor how to use it with the help of my software programs that show me how to screen capture, btw I got one here in case you are interested.