Jeffrey Zeldman made a good point in this post from Friday: email is no place for HTML.
HTML formatting is the sign of an amateur emailer.
Email was never meant to look nice. Email is supposed to be good old text. I have plenty of colleague and students who use HTML code in their email messages. When I receive a fancy formatted email message, I wonder how much time the writer really spent on the content.
People who read email on their phones and PDAs might not see that precious formatting. Some webmail clients can parse out the fancy HTML code in a message, so that the user can actually read that message on a small screen. Isn’t email supposed to be readable in the first place?
I also get mass email messages loaded with HTML formatting by vendors, organizations and companies. These senders may not realize what they’re doing when they use colors, fonts and styles to make their messages look perty.
Anal-retentive marketers want email campaigns to look like print.
They’re wasting my time and mailbox space with email that tries too hard to look like a printed piece. The fact that Microsoft has broken 5 years of email formatting progress by bundling an old rendering engine into Outlook 2007 makes me wonder if Redmond did that on purpose.
There’s plenty of malicious code that can be hidden in an HTML email message. Outlook is still a big security hole for users and companies, and crackers continue to use these holes to deliver viruses, exploits and worms that execute as soon as a message is previewed or read on a user’s unprotected computer. Security is another good reason to turn off HTML rendering in an email client. If the client is rendering the formatting, there’s less risk of an attack.
Sometimes I’m tempted to use HTML formatting in my own email, to deliver a table or a hyperlink. I’ve found that it’s easier to build the table in a spreadsheet or word processor, and to attach a small snapshot of that table to the email message. Many email clients will convert a web address to a clickable link automatically.
Every time I set up a new installation of Outlook for myself, I turn off HTML and Microsoft Word editing in the email preferences. Here’s an excellent page from Gerald Boyd that describes more details of how and why to send plain text emails in a wide variety of mail clients. Tha page hasn’t been updated since 2003, but it’s still a good place to start.
Of course, I’ve been using Gmail for a few years now, so I find myself using Outlook much less than I did in the 1998, when some people thought HTML formatted email was a good idea.