A Word on The Future of HTML Email
In 2007 we bore witness to one of the biggest *perceived* setbacks in html email history, Microsoft switched Outlook’s rendering engine from Internet Explorer to Word. Even now in 2008, cries of foul are still ringing out, but I think something much bigger is at play here.
No, the switch-over wasn’t a bumbling move of a giant corporation, I believe it was a bold and precisely calculated move for some pretty spectacular software to come.
You see, Microsoft is waging war to retain it’s market share and Outlook just happens to be one of those battlegrounds.
If you recall back in the 3rd quarter of 2006, Microsoft released a Blog editor called Windows Live Writer. It was one of the first programs to allow you to create blog posts in a WYSIWYG environment that actually looked like a post on your blog. This program was, and still is, a program available freely to anybody who wants to download it.
Now, fast forward a bit to 2007 and we get the news that Outlook is switching to the Microsoft Word rendering engine for displaying emails (it already used it for creating them). Microsoft’s stance has always been that they switch the rendering engine for displaying emails so that it would be the same as what users used to create emails.
So, here we are in 2008 with a seemingly gimped email client and a constantly improving piece of software for publishing blogs. How does it any of it tie together?
I think that in the next year or so we’re going to see a new breed of Microsoft Word. It’ll be a blend of all three programs. Since Outlook already uses Word’s rendering engine, why not just combine the two anyways? They essentially do the same function, create messages (albeit of different sorts), but I think that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
I think we will eventually see a new hybrid version of Microsoft Word capable of not only writing letters and novels, but also creating emails and posting to blogs throughout the web. It will be the penultimate word processor, capable of combining the functionality of three seemingly separate programs into one.
Further, to increase market share, I think it will include enticing features that you normally wouldn’t see within email. For example, now-a-days if you emailed a spreadsheet to somebody or prepared a really nice document within Word, you’d have to just attach it to the email, you can’t send something to a recipient that they can view inline, within their own email client.
But, with the new version that I believe is in the works, you’ll be able to prepare, send, save, and post documents from the same program. Those with the new Word application will be able to view the documents exactly how you created them, without having to open a separate program or save the file elsewhere. It’ll add additional functionality to emails that we currently just don’t have. And for those without the new version, they will receive the email exactly as we do now-a-days, with plane old attachments.
Plus, this helps tie in to Microsoft’s move into developing an open document format. What better way to get others moving in your direction than to create an open format that anybody can readily adopt.
I’m sure that as viewed by themselves, any of the moves made by Microsoft may seem to have a sinister motive at play, but I truly believe that it’s a move towards something greater. Sure, there’s a profit motive involved, but there comes a point for all corporations to decide if they are going to continue force feeding consumers, or if they’re going to create something consumers demand.
Microsoft has been in the game for a long time and I don’t think they are going anywhere anytime soon. If the seemingly bumbling moves are just that, then I suppose there’s no reason I can’t keep using Thunderbird.
But, if they’re not, we’re in for some exciting times to come.