If anyone hasn't heard, there's a bit of a kerfuffle brewing about Microsoft's decision to continue to use Word as the default editor and html renderer for Outlook 2010. Web developers reading this will probably cringe, as Outlook is the primary thorn in any email designer's side. A case in point: I was hired not too long ago to assemble a tightly-designed email for a small publisher. The design was clean, simple, and attractive. I generated a clean, standards-compliant version fairly quickly, but when I moved to adding compatibility for Outlook, my time and their costs literally tripled.
This sounds all too much like the arguments made against changing standards support in IE6. The IE6 argument started when a Microsoft product was found to handle things in a nonstandard manner that the larger community of developers found troublesome. That argument resulted in the ascension of Firefox and Safari, as well as Microsoft's decision to support better standards in IE7 and 8 later one.
We're now on the second phase of deja vu now, where the Microsoft holds that their method and strategy is fine and proper, even if it breaks their fundamental compatibility with the rest of the community. Now we'll move on to the last phase, where enough of an outcry is generated that a secondary application like Thunderbird or GMail begins to get better PR and market share. Well after this happens, Microsoft will begin to implement better compatibility in order to appease the community and retain their user base.
It's sad that this has to play out again so soon after the IE6 debacle. One would hope that losing 20% of a monopolistic market would be enough of a jolt to change the corporate culture at Microsoft to recognize the importance of standards on the internet, but their recent declarations indicate otherwise.
Outlook is a digital communications tool, and digital communications rely on standards to operate properly. Despite Microsoft's claim to the contrary, there is a standard for email rendering: HTML 4 and CSS 2. YAHOO, GMail, OSX Mail, Thunderbird, and Hotmail all render consistently using this standard, leaving Outlook as the IE6-like outlier. If they wish to use Word to make the editing portion of their user experience better, that's fantastic, and I encourage them to do so. Simply make the results obey standard HTML/CSS rules, and use a real HTML/CSS renderer to display emails from others.