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.