Way back in 2006/2007, we were shocked/disgusted/plain-out-flabbergasted to find out that the then about-to-be-released Outlook 2007 was going to stop using Internet Explorer to render HTML emails, and instead use the Microsoft Word rendering engine. Not a big deal you say? No background images, no support for essential CSS elements such as float or position, horrible box model support, requirements for inline styles, and the list goes on. In other words, the leading email client at the time (75-80% of the corporate email market) deliberately disregarded several years of significant progress in Web standards and single-handedly completely stunted any hope of progress in email design for at least another five years. In an email I sent to other Andonotters at the time, I stated something along the lines of "at least HTML skills I mastered in the late 1990s won't go to waste for many more years to come."
A brouhaha, at least amongst developers, ensued, with Microsoft apparently caught completely off-guard by the response. Anyhow, fast forward three years with Outlook 2010 set to release on June 15, 2010. and unfortunately, yet again we're going to be stuck with Word's rendering engine. Microsoft's rationale can be found in their official Outlook Blog, revealingly entitled "The Power of Word in Outlook":
"There is no widely-recognized consensus in the industry about what subset of HTML is appropriate for use in e-mail for interoperability. 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."
I know "yes, there are email standards: they're called Web standards" is an overly simplistic retort; nevertheless, it is the only approach that makes sense. I have trouble comprehending why Microsoft continues to perpetuate a bastardized version of email standardization that is about as counter-productive to industry consensus as possible, especially when they could enable Outlook customers to "write professional-looking and visually stunning email messages" in a standards-compliant way while still using the "rich tools that our Word customers have enjoyed for over 25 years" (and no, I'm not being naive here).
At least there's a glimmer of a possible, just maybe, once-in-a-blue moon reason to be optimistic about future versions of Outlook: yesterday, David Greiner of CampaignMonitor quoted the following from Dev Balasubramanian of the Outlook team:
"At this point, our plans for email authoring and rendering in Outlook 2010 are unchanged. However, I can tell you that this is a significant topic of discussion as we plan our business going forward, and something we will definitely be thinking about for future releases of Outlook."
...but don't get your hopes up.
In the meantime, I'll retweet fixoutlook.org, keep my <table> skills sharp, and dumb down our email templates all the while muttering under my breath "what a waste".