I'm hopeful but a little sceptical
Last night I logged on to watch a live feed of the Litmus, Email Design Conference in Boston. There Caitlin Hart, Program Manager from Outlook announced a partnership with Litmus to improve the rendering of Microsoft email clients. More details of that partnership here.
My thoughts the day after the announcement:
Firstly it's a great step in the right direction, a few years back the IE team reached out to web developers and ended up with a much better browser, better for developers, better for users. So lets hope Outlook can follow suit and do the same.
Outlook has recently been reducing the number of email clients. Live mail is gone and Outlook 365 and Outlook.com have sort of merged from a rendering and UI perspective. This means less testing on our side and less to maintain and therefore more time for bug fixing and improvements on their side.
This is also setting precedent for other email clients to follow. There is already good communication between developers who build website and those who build the browsers, hopefully this is the start of that relationship for email.
However I am a touch sceptical. Back in 2009 (before I got into email) there was a campaign, fixoutlook.org the site is no longer with us but you can read more about fixoutlook.org here.
The campaign seemed to gather some good momentum and even got a huge poster put up in the Outlook office. But then Outlook 2010 came out with the same bugs as 2007 and if anything it's got worse since then with a number of 120dpi rendering issues coming in recent versions.
But that campaign was focused at the desktop client. I don't think we can do much there. Outlook 2016 STILL uses the Word rendering engine so they seem set on it and even if they do change to HTML rendering, people will be using 2016 for a number of years. We still see a few people using 2007!
Ok so a quick note on Outlook desktop and why I don't like it. Yes it's a pain to code for but it's quite predictable and most fixes are well documented.
My issue with it is it dramatically increases the code weight and dramatically reduces accessibility for every single email we send, no matter where it's opened. Yes you can fix your design for Outlook desktop but in doing so it means a worse experience for every other person receiving that email.
Billions of emails are sent every day that could be half the file size, millions of those are opened by people who struggle to access the content because of the way they are coded.
At Rebelmail we've done a lot of work to improve the accessibility of our emails and reduce the weight of our code but it's very complicated. Being able to use semantic HTML would lead to a dramatic improvement.
Sorry bit off topic there, rant over.
But I'm staying positive
We can all agree the Outlook desktop app is bad for people developing HTML email and I doubt anything will be done to fix that soon. What we should be focusing on now is the webmail clients and the apps, those can be fixed and those fixes can be rolled out across every account.
I'm sure the Outlook team will be inundated with bug reports from email devs, I hope they are ready for that. I know a few people including myself have already reported a number of bugs to Caitlin and before her to her predecessor Julia, so I'm hopeful to see some fixes rolling out soon.
Remember the big difference between this drive for better rendering and the fixoutlook.org campaign is Outlook is involved with this from the start. You could even say they initiated it when they reached out to Justin Khoo last year.
I'm hopefully but I'm not going to let myself get too excited until I see the first bug fix roll out.