Outlook 2007 – The Sky Is Not Falling

4 minute read

If you’ve been reading up on your email marketing best-practice, you may have heard that Outlook 2007, Microsoft’s new enterprise email client, poses quite a few email design problems. In fact, more than a few people have been getting quite worried by it.

Everything we’ve read so far though has been overly technical so we though it would be useful to break things down into plain English and explain what they really mean for most marketeers.

What’s the fuss about?
The basic cause of the furore is that in the 2007 version of Outlook, Microsoft have changed the way that emails are displayed. Previously, in Outlook 2003 emails were displayed using Internet Explorer , so if your email worked in that, it would look pretty similar in Outlook.

Now however, emails are displayed using Word’s rendering system, which is a lot more limited and won’t necessarily behave as you expect.

Why is this happening?
Microsoft’s reasoning for this is that when you create HTML emails in Outlook (even 2003) you are actually using Word’s rendering system, so it makes sense to display received emails using the same system – previously you had the bizarre situation where you could create an email in Outlook and it would then look different when sent to another, identical version of Outlook because it was being created and viewed using two different engines.

What do I need to worry about?
The good news is, if you’re not a web developer and you are using our online email creation tools to build your emails, then you are unlikely to encounter many issues. Indeed, we’ve been testing as many of our client emails as possible and have found very few issues so far.

Whether you are currently using them or not, it’s worth being aware of the major limitations that Outlook 2007 introduces:

  • Background images no longer work, at all – This means no shadow effects at the edges of your email and no tiled backgrounds. As long as your email still looks OK and is readable if these don’t load then you can still use them for everyone else, but bear in mind that things will look a little different in Outlook 2007.
  • Positional CSS layouts – this has posed challenges in a lot of email clients in the past, now it’s a complete no-go in Outlook 2007. If you don’t know what this means, you’re almost certainly not using it, so don’t worry. If you do – then it’s back to tables for layout management I’m afraid.
  • Colour Fills – if you’re setting the colours of table cells things can go awry once you starting nesting tables within each other. Particularly handy now that you have to nest table cells to achieve certain layouts.

And there’s more – to satisfy your inner geek, Microsoft have posted detailed list of supported features here:
http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa338201.aspx

Is this really a huge problem?
In our opinion, not really. Provided you know the issues it’s straightforward (albeit sometimes frustrating) to get around these limitations. Add to this the fact that Outlook 2007 is brand new on the market and so is going to take a long time to gain market share – particularly given that its intended user base is the corporate market, which is usually very slow to upgrade and it becomes even less of an issue. If you are mainly targeting the B2C market it’s likely that the vast majority of your subscribers are on webmail clients and using online services like Hotmail and Yahoo!