back to article New Outlook feature: It freezes up when dealing with tables in emails

Microsoft's Outlook has been having trouble with emails containing complicated tables. The problem, according to Microsoft, turned up in the Current Channel version 2206 (build 15330.20196 and higher) and occurs when the email client chokes when dealing with complex tables. An example of Uber receipt emails is given, and the …

  1. Pomgolian

    Proper Rendering Engine

    If memory serves, Outlook 2007 dropped the Trident rendering Engine in favour of the one built in to Word. There were howls of pain among the marketing crowds back then due to the mess that made. Perhaps now is the time to switch html rendering to Chrome. If it's good enough for Edge..

    1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

      Re: Proper Rendering Engine

      :3 yeah I think after the huge amount of vulnerabilities exploited via older versions of Outlook via Trident, I wouldn't hurry back.

    2. Little Mouse Silver badge

      Re: Proper Rendering Engine

      Was that when Outlook stopped auto-formatting emails on-the-fly whilst you resized the message window? These days it waits until you've finished dragging the window borders before reformatting your text.

      I miss that feature. I could waste hours of my working day looking for unintended acrostic messages from senior management.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Proper Rendering Engine

      Eh, if it causes the Felt tip brigade pains, is there really a reason to change it?

      It's not as if that's a bad thing is, it?

  2. Michael Strorm Silver badge

    Seems the Magic 8 Ball was right then...

    "Outlook not so good".

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Seems the Magic 8 Ball was right then...

      Outlook (aka Lookout!) has always been a mess. Mine averages two synchronization errors a day; it especially has difficulty with the concept of deleting a message.

      Around 2000 I pointed out on VULN-DEV that even if you disabled pretty much everything you could disable, Outlook would still insist on rendering Windows metafile graphics embedded in messages. Because there could never be an exploitable vulnerability in the complex metafile rendering engine, yeah? So stupid.

      Of course, the fundamental problem is MIME, which was a terrible idea and we're all still paying the price for it.

  3. b0llchit Silver badge

    While nicely formatted emails are very popular with marketing types...

    Not only "marketing" types. There are loads of people who have no clue how to format properly and efficiently.

    Most emails are very very simple and should be designed equally simple. KISS is still the important imperative, also with respect to interaction design. If you need complex designs then you are almost certainly (99.99%) doing it wrong. As simple as that.

    Providing too many ways of formatting in the client always leads to added complexity and that, inevitably, results in bugs and problems.

    The fault lies with both the client systems and message designers. It is necessary to send me a 50 kB message to say "Hello, welcome to XYZ"? Or even a larger message to list 10 items? This is design bloat because we allow too much and think too little. I'd almost want resource-limited systems back so we all must think before we leap.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "The fault lies with both the client systems and message designers"

      Message designers? If you have a message designer you're 100% doing it wrong.

      1. b0llchit Silver badge

        See, they also fall in the 99.99% category ;-)

        Actually, you do "design" a message. Usually for content and clarity. However, it has gotten out of hand and now you get a complete website through your inbox without heads or tails.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          You can write a message for content and clarity.

          1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Writing well is in part a design process, for any useful definition of "design". That follows clearly from both composition research and from rhetorical theory. You could also support it based on, say, linguistic pragmatics.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          "However, it has gotten out of hand and now you get a complete website through your inbox without heads or tails."

          HTML in emails has lead to the same results as GUI based word processing and type setting did when they first came along with many included typefaces. People want to use everything in every document to show how clever they are. Thankfully, most people learned relatively quickly that every line in a different typeface didn't work well. They have yet to learn that lesson in HTML emails.

          In common with probably most users here, HTML is blocked in my email client unless I choose to enable it. If people want to send me specially formatted rich (hah!) text, then attach a PDF I can ignore more easily :-)

          The worst culprits are the one whose plaintext part (if even present at all) states "We tried to send you an email". Well, yes, you did. And you succeeded. Shame I can't see it because the multi-part MIME is so badly formatted my client can't even see or render the HTML portion.

          1. Grogan Bronze badge

            For decades I've been using a mail program that strips out html junk and presents it as plain text with links. Most of the time it's enough to be able to function. Occasionally, if I absolutely have to deal with an email with some shit that doesn't work (e.g. a button I'm supposed to click whose URL I'm just not getting), I'll have to save it as html (and maybe edit a bit to get it to work) and load it in a browser.

            The mail program I use is called Sylpheed. Pry it from my stiff, dead fingers :-)

    2. nautica Silver badge

      'Think' is a new four-letter word.

      "...and think too little..."

      "Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so."--Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

    3. ravenviz Silver badge

      Anything more than using tabs should be in an attachment, or better still a link to something online!

  4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    HTML email. There's the problem right there.

    1. b0llchit Silver badge

      At least now you can send a Game of Pong coded in CSS(*). That'll keep the recipient busy, especially the inner child in each of the recipients.

      (*)Any takers?

  5. ChipsforBreakfast

    Plain Text

    Round here, plain text has always ruled the roost. 72 characters wide, properly formatted signature separator, 4 lines of a signature at most and absolutely no damn HTML anywhere.

    Yes, I'm old.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Plain Text


      the flow

      breaks up


      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: Plain Text

        I recently got asked why I don't top post. Apparently, it makes my brief, quoted e-mails harder to read.

        Outlook has an awful lot of lost productivity to answer for!

    2. b0llchit Silver badge

      Re: Plain Text

      Yes, I'm old.

      Join the club.

      Oh, never mind, you already joined. You're reading and writing El Reg comments...

    3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Plain Text

      By and large I tend to agree with you but I must say that I like MailMate's use of Markdown to HTML conversion as a halfway house. I still only write and see plaintext but I can understand the desire for a limited amount of styling in some situations, largely in the way we've been doing for years.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: Plain Text

        An email message which contains un-sizeable text, usually in an image, which can't be reformatted to fit in a narrower window *and still remain readable* is broken.

        Raw seven-bit ascii, please, with _italic_ and *bold*. No more is ever necessary.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: Plain Text

          Images should always be attachments; no disagreement there. But I find being restricted to 7-bit ASCII a pain when I relatively frequently communicate in languages that characters outside ASCII's limited range.

          1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

            Re: Plain Text

            A very fair point which I completely forgot when I posted. Let's make it UTF-8, then?

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Plain Text

          with _italic_ and *bold*

          Pedant alert! /italic/, _underline_ and *bold* :-p

          1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

            Re: Plain Text

            It's really not my day...

  6. MikeGH

    Screen Reader support

    If the tables etc make the emails suitable for screen readers to present the right information, then it seems a good thing?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Screen Reader support

      Do screen readers have problems with html list formatting?

      For most emails, that should be enough. Especially with regard to the Uber receipt give as an example in the article.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Screen Reader support

        Screen readers don't have a problem with plain text, in my experience. Perhaps someone who uses them more extensively can explain why complex tables would be better. (My guess is that they wouldn't.)

  7. TchmilFan

    ...and on Mac, don't dare to use emojis

    Outlook for Mac, each time you run Outlook, first time you use an emoji or receive an email with an emoji in it, results in a spinning beachball for almost a minute as it does, er, something. It's not like they could just use the Apple emoji font... oh well.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: ...and on Mac, don't dare to use emojis

      Good advice all round.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: ...and on Mac, don't dare to use emojis

        How about "don't use emoji", full stop?

        ("emoji" is a Japanese word, and as such both the singular and plural are "emoji". "emojis" is a barbarism.)

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: ...and on Mac, don't dare to use emojis

      Outlook for Mac is crippled not least when it comes to connecting to Exchange servers outside the DMZ. Documentation on this handily points to some Windows Proxy settings. It also, ahem, struggles with shared calendars. And let's face it shared calendars is one of the main selling points of Outlook because we all know how shit an e-mail client it is.

      So, Outlook for Mac, just don't do it. It's a pity because Excel, Word and Powerpoint for Mac are pretty solid.

      1. andrewj

        Re: ...and on Mac, don't dare to use emojis

        Thankfully it was possible to roll back the "upgrade" to new Outlook for Mac, but I suspect that will be shortlived.

    3. ITS Retired

      Re: ...and on Mac, don't dare to use emojis

      The fix is to use as little of Microsoft as possible. Their scrip has a lot of typos the last few years.

  8. Mike 137 Silver badge


    "the email client chokes when dealing with complex tables. An example of Uber receipt emails..."

    Some points to consider:

    [1] why should a receipt require a complex table to format it?

    [2] I have received emails recently containing nested table cells up to (in one case) 20 layers deep, and almost all of the outer layers were empty of anything other than more table cells;

    [3] a lot of supposedly HTML emails aren't. One received today contained an HTML table, but no outer <body></body> tags or head.

    It's not surprising that its hard to interpret "html"of this kind.

    1. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: Tables?

      Maybe because you are in the 1990s and css hasn't been invented yet?

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Tables?

      >[1] why should a receipt require a complex table to format it?

      Because they don't actually want people to read and/or print out the receipt.

      Don't know about Uber receipts, but Dunelm (and some other retailers) have done some stupid formatting in their receipt emails so that they fail the WYSIWYG printing test (ie. what you see on screen should be what you see in print).

      Personally, when a receipt, e-ticket or other document where there is a reasonable expectation people print a copy, cannot be readily WYSIWYG printed it is a failure in the webpage design. I report these everytime, so the worst offenders have had multiple fault reports over the years.

      Yes I know there are webpage capture utilities - I often have to resort to using them, but it is still a webpage design failure.

    3. Kevin Johnston

      Re: Tables?

      My question would be why this is being embedded in the email body as a table and not sent as a simple attachment?

      Very few 'pretty' emails make it through all the various transition layers without something going askew (why else would they always include that 'Read in Web Browser' button) so how about you take a chill pill and use old-skool methods which just work. Small block of text to explain what the mail is about and attachments to hold the crayon department presentations

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Tables?

        "why else would they always include that 'Read in Web Browser' button"

        So that those who (as the senders see it) haven't worked out how to avoid reading emails in plain text won't be denied the opportunity to see the sender's latest brain fart in all its mult-icoloured, multi-font, flashing, Comic Sans glory. After all they took so much time putting it together it would be a shame to miss it.

        Yes, marketing departments really think you're interested.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: Tables?

          It also means they can track those of us who block tracking beacons in their e-mails…

        2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: Tables?

          "why else would they always include that 'Read in Web Browser' button"

          Cheer up. My (German) bank has recently changed its interface to one which is, on the whole, a lot more usable (though they haven't discovered a reason to include a running total on each payment line yet).

          What they have had for some time is the ability to export a PDF of a monthly statement - albeit in a font only its mother could love - but when attempting to copy and paste to, say, a spreadsheet, the details are disordered and generally not of any great use.

          So they've implemented an 'export as .csv' which would be great. If,only,they,hadn't,given,each,word,on,the,page,its,own,cell... so *nothing* lines up. Helpful.

  9. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    What's needed isn't an email client that attempts to render HTML. What's needed is one that autoreplies with a message that the email has been delete, please resend in plain text.

    No, scrub that as a client. What's needed is a server that bounces the message. Also one which bounces if the ReplyTo: is noreply or the message contains text to that effect.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      I'm sure that Microsoft will fix this problem, it probably only needs a minor and quick code rewrite to skip part of the processing ... and that might make phishing and other deliveries a little easier.

      I always see "problems" like this as educational - how secure the world would be it we just supported text emails - LOL, it's not going to happen.

      1. DJO Silver badge

        how secure the world would be it we just supported text emails

        As long as URLs are plain text, not particularly secure at all.

        You can tell users not to click on a link and definitely never copy a link to a browser. You can tell them again, it won't make a blind bit of difference, often it just needs one careless user.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Plain text significantly reduces the attack area because it stops URLs being masked behind the description.

          1. DJO Silver badge

            Yeah right, like that makes any difference to 95% of users.

            Here we are "tech savvy" and know what to look for.

            We are the exception!

            The overwhelming majority of "users of email" don't have a clue.

            1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

              I think it makes a material difference when comparing like for like. Sure, some people will believe anything and click before they read. But plenty of people who are likely to be fooled by simple phishing attacks where the URL is obscured in an apparent link to their account will be warier of a cryptic URL. Pretty e-mails have, in a sense, densitised and deskilled us into not checking.

              Of course, given the size of the target and the potential rewards this would probably just promote even more social engineering. You can see this in how phone call fraud changed once caller ID became widely available.

  10. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

    Tables and mazes

    I would expect a table with simple rows and columns to be handled easily. But accountants make things more difficult, when some table boxes are split and others are merged. I have every sympathy with any program trying to deal with some of the stuff I have seen.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    (Story mode on)

    Many years ago, I needed to send a daily production report to a customer. A nightly cron job ran a simple script that performed a SQL query and piped the results (as a CSV) to sendmail (which relayed through our local smtp server) with myself and a few customer contacts as recipients. Simple, effective, and easy for them to import.

    Then we got acquired by anothe company. As our network was assimilated into theirs, our smtp server went away and we had to go out through the corporate Exchange server.

    Well, Exchange took one look at my boring email and decided that it must need some HTMLifying. The resulting mangled email was both much larger, and nearly impossible for the customer to import into their system.

  12. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    You can set Outlook to not show message previews, and to open e-mails as plain text initially. I did this on a new PC recently... but I don't remember exactly how.

    Since message auto-displaying has been a route for viruses in the past, I don't want it.

    It does mean that a lot of HTML messages are not really readable that way, but often they were not going to be worth it anyway.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      One of the first things I do when I get a new work machine is go through Every Single Option in Outlook, disabling previews and automatic image display and a zillion other chunks of the attack surface. And also misfeatures like "replace as I type".

      There are, alas, many stupidities which cannot be disabled, but this helps.

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