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A Crash Course to Outlook 2013 and Office 365

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With the unveiling of Outlook 2013, it’s clear that Microsoft has refreshed its email client with today’s Internet user in mind. For instance, it takes a leaf out of Windows Mobile aesthetic appeal, and is ready for touchscreen interfaces. Fresh coat of paint aside, one can’t help but wonder if this is the right direction Microsoft should take for its veteran email client.

We at Enform have broken things down for you, detailing what designers and users can expect when meeting Outlook 2013 and its closely tied Office 365 for the first time.

Outlook 2013 – How Different is it?

For many Microsoft users, Outlook is perhaps the centrepiece of the Office suite. It “controls” the influx of web mail, helps schedule tasks, and sorts out business contacts. Word or Excel may drive productivity, but Outlook is the program that helps make sense of it all. Given how old Outlook is and how long it’s stayed relatively the same, a fresh coat of paint is more than welcome.

Outlook 2013 being, well, Outlook at its core, not a lot has really changed. Just like its previous incarnations, the entire Office 2013 Suite focuses less on added features, and more on streamlining existing functions and tasks, making them easier and faster to use.

Still, we at Enform have noted some notable differences.

Perhaps the first thing you will notice is the new logo, or icon as well as the new splash screen, which now both come in a bright blue instead of the old golden-orange we’ve grown accustomed to. To be honest, we won’t be surprised if some users have trouble telling the new Outlook icon apart from Word and Lync.

Another aesthetic difference lies in how Outlook 2013 now has a distinct monochromatic feel to it. It’s essentially re-skinned version of Outlook 2010, this time with a “cleaner” ribbon with less lines, and no bevelled buttons and golden gradients—very clean and bare, giving the program a sort of minimalist feel to it.

A Closer Look at the New Outlook

For email marketers, one similarity Outlook 2013 has to its 2010 predecessor may be of interest to them. CSS support remains largely the same for the new Outlook, which means that the program still uses Word’s rendering engine when displaying HTML email. This may be a disappointment to HTML email designers, who have had to deal with the spotty CSS support from Microsoft.

As in Outlook 2007 and 2010, images are also deactivated by default.

Office 365 – New Tricks up its Sleeve

While Microsoft’s cloud-based suite is indeed an improvement from Outlook Web App, it still falls short of the expectations people have set in terms of CSS support. You still have the same CSS2 properties from OWA, such as padding, margin and position, but other than that, you won’t find new goodies. There’s still zero support for CSS3 and background images, and the lack of CSS support for text decoration means leave little room for designers to at least code text to look better. This is further compounded by the strange problem of blue links in HTML emails.

Despite all that however, Office 365 wins points in the aesthetic department, sporting a soothing, minimalist feel that’s easy on the eyes—that at least is the liking of the team here at Enform. Like the new Outlook, Office 365 has been optimised for mobile touchscreen devices—the potential for Office 365 to be huge when Microsoft’s long anticipated Surface tablet is released is certainly there.

No Treats for Designers

So despite packing some new looks and improved functionality, both Outlook 2013 and Office 365 have little love for email designers, who will have to code the old fashioned way for the next few years. Despite stating that input and feedback for email standards were being taken into account for the future, the improvements in Microsoft’s new releases don’t include providing full support for HTML email, much to our disappointment. Still, we at Enform think that it pays to be familiar with both platforms, if not for the sake of your campaign’s well being, then at least for curiosity’s sake.