Outlook 2007 With the consumer release of Office 2007 nearly two-weeks away, there are some details that are emerging that might keep you away from using the popular email client that has been around for a long time: Outlook. The newest version is fancied up to look pretty and I have actually been playing around with the last Beta release for a few weeks now. There are a lot of really nice features that it has, especially since everything is in such a tightly integrated package. However, there is also something that I didn’t realize.

Campaign Monitor has pointed out that Outlook 2007 switched from using Internet Explorer as its rendering engine to using Microsoft Word. Anyone that has used Microsoft Word for the simplest HTML tasks knows how bad it is at generating HTML…it is really one of the ugliest things a Web developer will ever see. Application’s like Dreamweaver even have built-in tools to help clean-up the Microsoft Word HTML, which demonstrates just how bad it really is.

Here is a list of things that’s “new” in Outlook 2007:

  1. No background images – Background images in divs and table cells are gone.
  2. Poor background color support – Give a div or table cell a background color, add some text to it and the background color displays fine. Nest another table or div inside though and the background color vanishes.
  3. No support for float or position – Completely breaking any CSS based layouts right from the word go. Tables only.
  4. Shocking box model support – Very poor support for padding and margin, and you thought IE5 was bad!

This quote from the site really sums it up well:

Imagine for a second that the new version of IE7 killed off the majority of CSS support and only allowed table based layouts. The web design world would be up in arms! Well, that’s exactly what the new version of Outlook does to email designers.

I have had the pleasure of designing email templates for several businesses, and fortunately for me I created them using tables without any background images. I had thought about doing the designs using CSS, but I wanted to make sure that I would use something that almost all email providers would be able to render properly. I have checked the email templates that I created and they all seem to display properly, but for anyone who has already stepped into the CSS realm I’m sure there will be a lot of frustration.

I found this article via the Firefox Extension’s Guru Blog (who also mentioned it in the forum) and he brought up a good point. He said:

Granted right now Thunderbird is not as feature packed as Outlook. But Thunderbird 2 will be adding several new features such as the new message alert indicator, message tags and may be even tabs. Thunderbird 2 will also render incoming HTML e-mails via Firefox.

Since Thunderbird (version 2 Beta 1 available here) does use Firefox to render emails, is this going to be the next big push by Web developers? I haven’t met a single Web developer who has said the they prefer to design websites for Internet Explorer of Firefox because it is easier, and will email templates be the next big complaint? There are a lot of newsletters and weekly updates that I receive who use CSS for their formatting, and these people are probably going to be frustrated beyond belief with having to change their templates to use tables.

Mozilla Thunderbird might not have as many features, but I think it will be quickly catching up. It can already manage your emails, contact list, and with the help of an add-on (called Lightning) it can also handle your calendar. Outlook also manages your tasks/to-do lists which can be done with the ReminderFox extension in Thunderbird. The only other thing that I can think of which Outlook has is a note-taking application, and the QuickNote extension for Thunderbird should be able to add that feature.

So that just goes to show that Thunderbird might eventually take the reigns in the personal information management world, but hopefully an office productivity suite like OpenOffice.org will start to bundle it with their existing software. I would have to imagine that it would help out Thunderbird’s market share quite a bit.