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Outlook Insanity

I posted this to my local LUG this morning, then realized that it would make an excellent blog post, so I'm cross posting it here for a wider audience.

For those who know me, know I'm anal retentive about my mail. It started probably 4-5 years ago, when I discovered the difference between the IMAP and POP protocols. Following that, I learned server-side filtering, content encoding, MIME types, and a bazillion other things about electronic mail. Needless to say, I have an OCD with mail.

At any rate, someone on the mutt-users mailing list raised an interesting question, and I thought I would share that with you here. Essentially, Outlook 2007 (and probably previous versions) is using the following format to structure their paragraphs:

<p>Lorem ipsum<o:p></o:p></p>

In case you're curious, and don't know what the "<o:p></o:p>" tags are, you're in good company. They're Microsoft Office namespace tags. I'm not entirely clear of what they're function is, but it's common for Word, Outlook, and other Microsoft Office products to use them when composing HTML.

What this means for Mutt users is extra line breaks. Rather than one line break, there are two, and I believe the "<o:p></o:p>" tags are the culprit for adding the extra line break (seeing as though properly formatted paragraphs wrapped in <p> tags shouldn't do doing so).

However, here's the real kicker- I sent myself a test email that had Lorem Ipsum content, just to troubleshoot the issue a bit. The plain text of the mail, including headers, is roughly 4 KB. However, the HTML of the message is about 16 KB! The message grew 4 times!!

Call me a fanboy, call me stupid, call me late for dinner, but growing a message 4 times, just to wrap it in HTML? Really? It seems that Outlook is sending both the plain text and the HTML-wrapped mail together, not to mention the extra header and boundary information. But to grow a message 4 times larger than the original plain text?

What in the world are they adding? Well, there is the additional header and boundary information, which in reality, isn't that much. What is killing them, are all the CSS and HTML tag attributes, not to mention sending both the plain text and HTML-formatted version of the message. In other words, metadata. To. Send. You. The. Same. Message. As. Plain. Text.

Ugh, and to think it gets worse.

If I digitally sign, not encrypt, but sign the message with my PKI key that my employer has allowed me to setup, the message grows to 29 KB! This is more than 7 times the original plain text, just my adding my SSL signature. The S/MIME signature alone that is attached to the mail is 1/5 the size of my entire public GnuPG key!

Anyway, I was blown away when I saw this. I've heard of Exchange administrators hating their jobs, because of the constant battles with it. I would imagine that Outlook isn't helping any by composing emails on these orders of magnitudes.

Just thought I would share. Oh, and if you have a solution to stripping out the "<o:p></o:p>" tags in Mutt, I'm all eyes.

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