We’re ramping up our emailing efforts and decided to start sending out HTML newsletters to customers. (We’ve always sent out plain-text emails but figured some minimal styling would help liven things up a bit.) So we designed a nice, simple email using clean code. The first one is this brief Basecamp Newsletter.

It took a while to get to this version though. First, we ran our simply styled email through Mailchimp Inbox Inspector (demo), a useful tool you can use to view HTML newsletters in a variety of email apps.

It came up perfect everywhere except Outlook 2007, Windows Live Mail, and Lotus Notes. Strangely, it looked fine in Outlook 2006 but busted in Outlook 2007.

The reason? As Campaign Monitor put it, Microsoft decided to take email design back 5 years.

As I type this post I still can’t believe it. I’m literally stunned. If you haven’t already heard, I’m talking about the recent news that Outlook 2007, released next month, will stop using Internet Explorer to render HTML emails and instead use the crippled Microsoft Word rendering engine.

First things first, you need to realize that Outlook enjoys a 75-80% share of the corporate email market, which is similar to Internet Explorer’s share of the browser market – they make the rules…The reality is that many of us are going to have to scale back our email templates to years past and stick with tables and inline CSS if we want consistent looking emails in Outlook and Windows Live Mail.

No background images, no float or position (tables only), really poor support for padding/margin, etc. For real!? It’s like a time warp to making web pages in 1999. But what can ya do when Outlook’s got a 75-80% share for corporate email?

So we dove into the world of bulletproof, “work anywhere” templates. You can find them at Campaign Monitor, MailChimp, or elsewhere.

But the code is real gobbledygook. Lots of this sorta thing:

span style="font-size:20px;font-weight:bold;color:#CC6600;font-family:arial;line-height:110%;"

Totally drops the “beautiful code” limbo bar to the floor. Bummer.

What can be done to make this situation better? Check out these posts from Campaign Monitor that seek to improve the situation: Why we need standards support in HTML email and Help us form a baseline for standards support.