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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.

{ 7 } Comments

  1. Adam | May 6, 2011 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Do mutt doesn't respect the XML namespace? Isn't that horribly broken?

  2. Aaron | May 6, 2011 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Mutt displays the mail in plain text, so if you don't use something to parse the HTML, and spit the plain text result to Mutt, Mutt will display all the tags to you, so it gets very chatty. Thus, some 3rd party utility should parse the HTML, such as /etc/mailcap, which results in the extra line breaks mentioned.

    So, if you know a 3rd party utility that will do better than /etc/mailcap for treating the "" tags, I'm paying attention.

  3. nnonix | May 6, 2011 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Welcome to 2004. This is all old news. The sad thing is, although your assertions are technically correct, the world does business with Outlook so .... you're essentially bitching about caller-id overhead while using two Dixie cups and a string to make a phone call.

    The answer, as much as you will hate it, is to use a real email client. That said, allowing email to deliver anything but plain text has got to be on the top 100 worst ideas of all time list.

  4. Aaron | May 6, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Definitely old news. Doesn't make it any less insane. Also, I don't care if others use Outlook- I care about what steps I need to take to make my mail experience a good on. I don't use Outlook, as I think was clear in the post, but I still have to deal with its headaches.

  5. bochecha | May 6, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

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

    Not only for Mutt users.

    At my previous work, I had to use Outlook. So I set it to display all email as text. Well, when I received emails from other Outlook users, Outllok converted it as text and told me something like « Extra line braks have been removed, click here to readd them. »

    See, even Outlook gets confused by itself. 🙂

  6. RBL | May 18, 2011 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    The real insanity is using Outlook in the first place. I use Gmail as my client and connect it (POP) to the company Exchange server. I also use Thunderbird and connect it to Gmail via IMAP. Ditto Android. Now I can get my mail anytime from anywhere, and I don't have to deal with Outlook's overwhelming mess of "features" and Microsoft's proprietary Office markup. When I have "heavy e-mail flow" days, I can bail on Gmail and use Thunderbird, which gives me a lot of mail sorting, grouping, threading, and color-coding options Gmail lacks. And because I'm on Linux, synchronizing my Thunderbird config is as easy as cloning the hidden user prefs folder via a flash drive and Grsync.

  7. Martin Wildam | June 3, 2011 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    This is not only mutt experiencing the problem with the extra linebreaks. But it is not only this.

    Outlook is pure insanity for the whole e-mailing world!

    You can't cite correctly using Outlook - no, you can't - you can get near, but you don't get it how it should be and how every other e-mail client is doing.

    And apart from the extra line-breaks you get them also eliminated. - And it is the old story with Microsoft: They try to think for the user and do implement plenty of features or automatic things because they again and again think they know better than the user...

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