HTML Email

There was some discussion in the comments of Scoble‘s blog about HTML and email. Someone commented that they were dissapointed with Outlook 2003 because it wouldn’t allow you to set a preference to only ever send plaintext unless it is told to. Robert’s response? “Why?” Sadly this seems to be the Microsoftian (Microsoftie?) response. Not “oh, as a user we respect and value your opinion and what you think of our products, we’ll look into that”, but rather, “you’re trying to do something that we don’t want you to do, you must be wrong.” Another reason why it’s “where are you going to be taken today?” not “where do you want to go today?”

The underlying evilness of Microsoft aside, I want to address the the underlying evil of HTML email. Some would accuse me of trying to keep the internet in the ’90s with old technology and not embracing the future, but I’d like someone to give me an honest example of a legitimate use of HTML in email (please comment if you have one).

I’ve seen the following uses of HTML email:

  • Embedding viruses
  • Embedding worms
  • Embedding activeX components that are either viruses or worms
  • Sending spam with embedded flashing gifs or images of naked men and women
  • Sending spam and using HTML to hide text to get past spam filters (IE: font color white, “normal” words in comments)
  • Sending spam with ugly colors/text to try to make penis enlargement pills or viagra more attractive somehow
  • Sending spam that contains web bugs to check for email addresses that are in use
  • Being “cute” and sending email with “fun” or “neat” fonts and/or images

So to me anyway, HTML email is annoying. To others it spreads spam, viruses, and the other crap that is all around us. Personally I think that if I were to put my conspiracy theory tinfoil hat on I’d say that Microsoft is encouraging viruses, worms and spam by not giving a “send by plaintext only” option as the default. But that’s just me.

What about the size? Below is the results of three emails I sent to myself. Each contained nothing but the text “The answer to Live, the Universe and Everything is: 42” The first is plaintext, the second HTML mail from Outlook Express, the third HTML mail using the “Clear Day” template from Outlook Express. The sizes are the number in brackets. The size as reported by Outlook Express:

  • Plain Text: 1KB
  • HTML: 2KB
  • HTML with Template: 10KB

So basically double the size of an email message if it’s in HTML (might be more or less depending on the size of the text in the message… a quick test of the text I sent pasted 26 times in HTML shows up as 5KB, while a plaintext version is 2KB). The 10KB is probably at least half or 3/4 image, but still, that’s 8KB extra, multiplied by the number of email you get every day.

So while using double the network traffic and time to get my email isn’t a big deal for me with broadband, my dad who is on dialup has his time go from a couple of minutes to 5 or 10 of just sitting there and waiting for HTML laiden spam to download.

Maybe there is a need for some sort of eye candy in email to give it some more life than plain text does, but I’m pretty sure that HTML isn’t the way to go. What I’d like to see are ISPs providing a service of removing HTML from email at the server level.

Sadly, since they are a monopoly I can’t do much but welcome our Redmond overlords and their HTML email.

PS: I’m a mutt user.

5 Comments on “HTML Email”

  1. Two points:
    1) Arc, thanks for being a little bit of the fly in the proverbial ointment about MS. It is too easy to become a syncophant. Even when the people are on the same side, it is always good to have differing opinions. As Lyndon Johnson said, when two people agree, only one is thinking.
    (Aside: I really like the term “Loyal Opposition” that is used in parliamentary systems… it relates to the above quote very well. In the U.S., the two sides are not necessarily seen in those terms
    2) Microsoft has no business telling people how they should be using their computers. If they had a proven track record of some companies for good user interface or some other projects to make a secure OS. Microsoft of all companies should shut the fuck up.

  2. Regarding a legitimate use of HTML in email:
    I have developed a Microsoft Access to Outlook tool for one of my clients. They send email to employees in hundreds of branch offices displaying important data that is best viewed in a table. They like to use fonts and color for emphasis. They also like to provide links to their intranet that so people can get to other pertinent information.
    I recognize that Html email can carry payloads that are dangerous. It’s a dangerous world. I wanted to give you an example where it may be “legitimate.”

  3. I agree Arc, ban html email altogether.
    Also ban any web page with flash. And ban Java and javascript too. Also ban pictures.
    Aw hell, lets go back to using gopher instead of html. Bring back Archie and Veronica!
    …actually, I hate html mail too. My wife uses FirstClass for email and we can’t shutoff html in it either, even though it’s html won’t show up correctly in some html aware mail clients.
    p.s. I’m happy as a fly in shit that I use mutt too!

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