It’s Not About The Rendering Engine Anymore

Today, RIM launched their new 6.0 OS (and the new BlackBerry Torch) and by doing so, added its name to the ever growing list of products using WebKit as the basis for their Web browser. RIM’s move isn’t really all that interesting: they had no good browser anyway and it’s not as if they are first to do this.

The interesting discussion in my opinion is what Microsoft should do. Back in the Netscape / IE war, Microsoft was convinced that Web browsers would ultimately replace desktops apps (they weren’t wrong) and they invested a lot of money in creating Internet Explorer. That war is still on, although nowadays the players have changed. With IE, we’re now talking about Firefox and Chrome as the main competitors.

But what really changed however, is that the HTML/CSS rendering engine shouldn’t matter that much. We went from a 1 browser = 1 engine model to a model where we now have a couple of really good open engines powering many browsers.

Controlling the world’s browser market is one thing, but as Google is proving, that doesn’t mean you need to have your own engine. Chrome is built on top of Web kit, just like Safari is and countless mobile web browsers are. These products are still competing with each others and are still different from each other yet they are built on the same foundation.

What that means of course, is easier Web development and less browser-specific bugs. This is why I think Microsoft needs to stop developing its own engine and start using either WebKit or Gecko. Both of these are well done, support many web standards and are fairly easy to integrate in a product.

Of course, such a change can’t happen overnight and it’s a difficult thing for Microsoft to do, but I do believe that in the long term, it’d make the Web a lot better. Trident, Microsoft’s rendering engine since IE 4 isn’t exactly renowned for its spectacular support for standards. And really, I’d much rather see Microsoft invest 18 months developing Internet Explorer proper rather than waste 80% of that time coding the engine.

Fix Outlook!

As both a software and Web developer, I have two very different opinions of Microsoft. On  the one hand, Microsoft creates fantastic developer tools like Visual Studio and their .Net platform is quite nice. As a Web developer though, you have IE, a browser used by the vast majority of the world but unfortunately also the least standard compatible browser and a major pain when it comes to coding standard compliant web sites.

For some time now, the folks at the Email Standards Project have been working to help Web developers  understand the limitations of the various email clients with regards to HTML rendering. That site is quite useful by the way, but this is not the reason of this blog post.

Today I want to talk about Fix Outlook!, an initiative by the Email Standards Project to convince Microsoft not to use the Word rendering engine to render HTML emails in Outlook for Office 2010. If you’ve ever designed an HTML email campaign for a client, you know how painful it can be to test all the different clients and by the look of it, Outlook 2010 will make it even worse.  Go on the Fix Outlook! site and have a look at the same email rendered in Outlook 2000 and Outlook 2010 to understand the extent of the damage. By using Word to render the email, Outlook basically loses most of its CSS support.

What’s sad here is that this isn’t some small piece of unknown shareware, it’s a major new version of a software that will probably be used by tens of not hundreds of millions of users around the world for several years. Just like a new version of Internet Explorer, this new version of Outlook will have a major impact on what’s possible and what’s not possible with HTML emails in the near future.

Please support the Fix Outlook campaign by tweeting. Visit the site for more information. Let’s hope Microsoft will get the message and will use a real HTML rendering engine for its email client.

If only they had such a thing in house…