A new outlook for the New Outlook?
The Outlook desktop app on Windows has been the elephant in the room for many years. The current version relies on Microsoft Word to render HTML emails and as a result does not render HTML the same way a web browser does and supports proprietary markup and CSS. Today, Outlook Windows is the main reason developers still use HTML tables for layout; an outdated method for approaching layout in HTML.
However, this is changing. Earlier this year Microsoft announced the new Outlook for Windows with a major change: it uses a browser engine to render HTML. In fact, it handles HTML emails very similarly to the web version of Outlook, which aligns with Microsoft’s goal of bringing “consistency across our Windows and web codebases”.
When will the New Outlook be available?
An option to try the New Outlook now appears for users participating in the Office Insider program and running the Beta Channel builds. At the moment, this is only available for paid Microsoft customers with a commercial or education mailbox.
Users have also reported being able to download a version without participating in the Insider program.
Microsoft has not set an official release date. Given this is still in beta channel builds, it is still missing some key features that Microsoft is working on adding to the app soon.
What does the release of the New Outlook mean for users?
Today, if you were not to support the Microsoft Word rendering engine, you will be able to build emails faster and with less code. The testing phase of your emails will also be shorter. It will be easier for developers to build semantic accessible HTML emails. It is a productivity boost for HTML email developers!
How will the New Outlook changes affect communications with audiences or customers?
The implications of the use of Microsoft Word as a rendering engine in the current version of Outlook Windows goes beyond HTML rendering. Assistive technologies also interact differently in the current version of Outlook Windows. One known issue is how links inside VML (proprietary markup) are not keyboard accessible.
So your audience will eventually be served more accessible HTML emails without having to switch to another email client. This doesn’t mean your HTML email will be accessible by default; it is still your responsibility to build an accessible experience.
Are you prepared for the release of the New Outlook?
If your current emails render fine across the email clients you care about, you don’t need to rush to update them. However, you may eventually choose to drop your pixel perfect support for Microsoft Word’s rendering engine. Before you do that, we recommend you measure your current Outlook Windows audience.
Microsoft is known to give their customers a lot of time before forcing them to make a change. So even after the new Outlook for Windows is made available for everyone, Microsoft may potentially allow customer to keep using the older version for some time.
Nonetheless, you can start measuring your Outlook Windows audience today and evaluate whether it is small enough (or non-existent) already. Then you can determine whether it is reasonable to stop supporting the old Outlook Windows soon after the new Outlook for Windows is released.
If you need support to ensure the consistency and accessibility of your emails, whether that is in Outlook or on multiple email clients, you have come to the right place. Get in touch with the email experts at Flourish, to have a chat about how you can improve your email marketing.