Microsoft answers Outlook 2007 critics on rendering-engine changes

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.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

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 msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa338200.aspx and msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa338201.aspx 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."

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