Ian Hoar – Passion for Technology – Geeking Out - Technology, Web, Toys, Games, Design, Entertainment, Gadgets, & Geeking Out

Outlook 2007 borders and 1px padding on table cells!

Anyone creating email newsletters on a daily basis will tell you how hard it is to get them to render properly in all email clients, but getting them to work in Outlook 2007 can be maddening as any quick Google search will show.

Today I came across a bug that left me fuming. I could not figure out why every single cell in my table heavy layout had a 1px padding around it and in some cases I was even missing my table borders. For those of you working in the sane world of web design, tables are a thing of the past, but in the world of email, tables are back with a vengeance.

As I became more and more disillusioned I started trying anything and stumbled across the fix. I knew I had to share this, so if you are experiencing any of the above, here is the fix and it’s a simple one.

Here’s an example of what a two cell table with an image and text would look like before the fix. Notice the 1px white border/padding around the table.

And here is how it’s supposed to look after the fix. No white border / padding.

And the fix?

table td {
    border-collapse: collapse;
}

I don’t think I’ve ever even used this css before, but once I started grasping at straws I began to fiddle around with the CSS border attributes and tried it. I’ve never seen any browser or mail client except Outlook 2007 do this to table cells.

Here’s the full HTML from the example, and thank you Microsoft, for delivering the worst email rendering experience yet, we all thought Hotmail was bad, but you really stepped up to the plate!

<html>
  <head>
  <meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8" />
  <title>Outlook 2007 Test</title>
  <style media="all" type="text/css">
  table td {
    border-collapse: collapse;
  }
  </style>
  </head>
<body>
  <table width="200" border="0" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="0" style="border:solid 1px #48463b;">
  <tr>
  <td width="80"><img src="http://yourserver/graphic.gif" width="80" height="40" alt="graphic"></td>
  <td width="120" style="background-color:#c1beb1; color:#ffffff; font-family:Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; text-align:center; font-size:11px;">Another column<br>
  plain text.</td>
  </tr>
  </table>
</body>
</html>

You may also want to check out my other entries on this topic.

IE8 will interpret web content in a standards compliant way

Internet ExplorerThere’s an interesting post on the MS IEBlog about how Internet Explorer 8 will render in a standards compliant way by default. If you want IE7 rendering you will have to explicitly ask for it in the html document. A List Apart has more on this topic.

Overall I think IE7 was pretty disappointing. I still have a lot of problems getting things to work properly, and I usually get things to work in Firefox and Safari long before I get them to work in IE7, not to mention that some sites that work in IE6, break in IE7. Let’s hope 8 will be different, but now web designers and programmers will have three Internet Explorer browsers to support and deal with, at least for awhile.

Interoperability is the future with more and more clients out there. I believe that hand held browsing will become a major part of many people’s lives in the very near future as WiFi becomes more widespread and cell phone bandwidth prices drop. More and more people will be accessing pages on many different platforms, so web standards and interoperability are more important than ever. Microsoft seems to understand this and is listening to the web standards experts more and more and this is good.

Outlook — creating OFT files for email newsletters

OFT files are Outlook Templates, also sometimes called Outlook File Templates. You can make email templates from them, but as with most Microsoft products the quality can be quite flaky if you are not careful. I have had to create many OFT files for clients and if you go back in time and code to 1996 web standards you can get them to look pretty decent.

UPDATE: Using Outlook 2010? Check out my updated article.

There’s too ways to create OFT files. One is to save the email from the Save As menu and select OFT under the Save as type: drop down. This means you already have the email in your inbox, which means mailing the html with a 3rd party program.

There’s an easier way to do this which will allow you to skip the step of sending yourself the email. The OFT process could even be handed off to the business people that need the OFT.

Top menu go to,

View / Toolbars / Web.

You should now have an input field at the top that says something like outlook:Inbox

Here you can type / paste any web address and it will load the page in Outlook. Once this is done, in the menu go to,

Actions / Send Web Page by E-mail

Now you will see the page in a new mail window. If the webpage was not to complex and created using tables, it should look okay. Pure css and more complex designs will not work at all and really shouldn’t even be considered for any email deployments. I’m a strong supporter of web standards, unfortunately some major email platforms are not.

The next step is to save the email as an OFT. Go to,

Giant windows bubble (AKA Office Button) / Save As

Select OFT, name the file and save.

You should now have an OFT file. You can test this by double clicking it which will open Outlook. You can now edit the text and send to other people. OFT files can be a cheap internal alternative to full blown email deployments. I would only recommend OFT files for small internal newsletters. OFT’s may not work properly on other email clients and are proprietary.

Microsoft offers $44.6-Billion for Yahoo

This announcement did not leave me with a warm and fuzzy feeling. Right now there are really only three big search engines, with Google being the dominate one; this would narrow it down to two. Whenever Microsoft can’t get something right, they just buy someone who has done it right.

There is a very interesting discussion on Slashdot about why Yahoo is so popular. A lot of the reasons for it’s popularity are things that Microsoft has never really understood, like interoperability. How many of Microsoft’s offerings fail to work properly on anything but a MS platform?

I see the Internet moving away from propriety software solutions. For a long time Internet Explorer was king, but that is all changing, and as web usage moves more and more towards handhelds I don’t see this trend changing. We have this thing called “Web Standards”, and they work.

If this deal goes through, I just hope Yahoo doesn’t end up like Hotmail. For me, Google is king, but I like Yahoo the way it is and would hate to see it become an IE only, or even IE enhanced platform.

Xbox 360, Microsoft punches its users in the face again!

Okay, here we go again with more great news from Microsoft. For anyone following my blog for the past week or so, or Xbox Live’s Major Nelson’s blog, then you know that due to the very long outage over Christmas (or intermittent outage as Microsoft claims) Microsoft will not be refunding us, but instead giving us a game of their choice.

I won’t go on about the details, you can read that in my previous posts titled “Xbox Live, what are we paying for? Could the tides change?” and “Xbox free arcade title announced“. Now today it has been announced on Major Nelson’s site that we have a whole five days to download this title. How is this compensation for an outage? I think they should have given us nothing; it probably would have generated less negative feedback than this. As one poster mentioned in a previous entry here, what about the people with the red ring of death? Or the ones that are away this week? Or… the ones who just don’t know. There is little to no advertising of this free game. Wow, some compensation. This is just to appease the angry hoards and I don’t think its working.

Undertow, the temporarily free and previously released game is also the Arcade game of the week. This has also upset some users who look forward each week to Wednesday’s new Arcade game. People are also still asking about what to do if they already have Undertow. Major Nelson posted in the comments section that people can call Xbox support, but obviously lots of people haven’t read that and will thus miss out. Couple this with the fact that many users are still having trouble connecting to live and that this very game is giving errors to some people when they attempt to download it and you have a sad state of affairs. Now if only the PS3 could get in gear and get some good games out.

Read more comments on Major Nelson’s post.

Xbox free arcade title announced

Wow, only two days after my post “Xbox Live, what are we paying for? Could the tides change?” and the free arcade game I spoke of has been announced. Turns out it is a half decent title called Undertow, and it will be available next week. Here’s the official announcement.

While I don’t want to seem ungrateful, I think this is a pretty lame deal. This offer is obviously calculated to have the least impact on Microsoft. I am still amazed that people are defending Microsoft and saying that the people who complain are ungrateful. Since when does a customer have to be grateful for goods and services they have purchased? Since when do customers have to be grateful that their service works? If my new car breaks down for a week and the company that makes it takes a week to fix it and gives me a free tank of gas and a free tank of gas to everyone who has ever test driven the car, why would I be grateful? I still had a week without a car, and why are these other people getting free gas?

Which brings me to the second point, why are Silver members getting the same treatment? They pay nothing for the service that went down, and they don’t even play games online. Their gaming experience is still pretty much 100%. Gold players that usually go online can’t even play! Okay, maybe they should have some kind of compensation since some might have bought live games with extremely strict DRM rules and had a new Xbox 360, which would require them to be online to play the games they paid for. Don’t even get me started on the DRM.

Some people don’t even like Arcade games, most of them in my mind are boring compared to the full blown store games. Now why was this choice made? What people out there that are praising Microsoft probably don’t realize is that this was not done out of the good of Microsoft’s heart. Don’t be naive, Microsoft is a corporation and the last one they are looking out for is you. They want to look good with the least capital loss. The Xbox 360 is already a financial failure so far. I actually do understand this though, as an investor myself I expect a company to balance that fine line between the public relations and the bottom line.

My hunch is that this game was picked for a number of reasons, namely cost. Forums are littered with people saying they already bought this game. Microsoft has said these users can call support and they will sort things out. So basically my time is not important, I have all the time in the world to sit on a support line. How many will know this or even bother? I’m sure this was calculated, since this is a pretty big title and a lot of people probably already own it. The best offer would have been a refund for the horrid month of live service, or free gamer points. This would have upset a lot less people, but it would have cost them a hell of a lot more. With this title, arrangements were probably already made. It never would have sold to everyone using live, whereas points would have been equivalent to every gamer getting a free game.

Anyway, I think the thing that bothers me the most about this whole thing is the Microsoft fanboys. No doubt this game is better than a punch in the face, and even better than nothing, but stop acting like Microsoft cares so much about you. The corporation cares about their bottom line and salvaging their image, that’s it, and that’s all I would expect from any corporation.

I personally think Microsoft is walking a dangerous line with the constant outages, crazy DRM schemes, and constantly breaking hardware. As I post this, a friend of mine is getting ready to pack his 360 in a coffin and send it back to Microsoft due to the infamous red ring of death. As I have mentioned in the past, with a growing number of upcoming block buster titles, I think the PS3 is starting to look more and more like a serious contender, and I’m also no fan of Sony. The red ring of death is becoming a symbol of what the 360 is. It’s too bad, because there are a lot of fantastic games for this system.

Xbox Live, what are we paying for? Could the tides change?

Anyone who is an avid Xbox live player probably knows that it’s been a bumpy ride for the past few weeks. It all started just before Christmas and slowly got worse throughout the holidays. The problem is supposedly now solved and was related to the large number of new users, but myself and several friends are still having trouble staying connected to games like Call of Duty 4. Xbox Live’s Major Nelson had updates during the holidays, but Microsoft in general has been quiet about the issue. Xbox Live gold members have been promised a free arcade game as compensation, but there are no clues as to what this might be. I think the compensation needed to be given shortly after the problem was resolved, but here we are weeks later and still no word.

Anyway, the real point here is not whether we get any compensation. I think not being able to connect at the one time of the year when you have lots of free time cannot really be fixed after the fact. That said, this begs the question of what we get when we pay the yearly subscription fee. Yes, I know it’s not that much, and it’s funny how many staunch supporters Microsoft has over this issue. I have never understood why people become so rabidly loyal to any company. As a customer I think I have the right to complain, and of course the company has the right to ignore me and so does anyone else.

Now in North America we find that two new fairly big demos are not available, The Club and Turok (Yes I know I can create other country accounts and get them, but that’s not the point). I think these are exclusives for game magazines like Eternal Sonata was, so basically if you want them when the rest of the world gets them you have to pay for them. Now if this is over a rating issue like it is in some countries then I can understand. That’s out of Microsoft’s hands, but if this is an exclusivity deal then I’m not okay with it. Let non-paying members buy the disks or wait, don’t make your Gold users wait!

What’s my point? Okay, I admit it; I won’t be cancelling my Live Subscription any time soon because I enjoy playing online with several friends, and Microsoft probably knows this about its users. Remember, pretty much every other gaming service is free. When you play live, the users are still hosting the matches and providing the bandwidth, all you are really getting is the right to connect to other players, that and a pretty good match making service, at least when it’s working. This is why when the host of a game leaves everyone gets the boot. So again, is this service really just for matchmaking and the privilege to share bandwidth?

I am not outraged like some people and I can easily afford the price, but I do think it’s time for Microsoft to seriously take a look at its Gold offerings and server stability. I also think that maybe paying customers should be able to get Demo’s without paying or waiting for them, but hey, that’s just me, I’m sure there’s Xbox Zealots out there that will disagree. I also think that Microsoft is choosing a bad time to rock the boat. Live has been a pretty great service in the past, but it’s also had no real competition, and now the service quality seems to be pretty rocky. There are also a boat load of highly anticipated PS3 games around the corner and the tides could turn very fast. Sure there are the fanboys of both consoles, but then there’s a lot of people like me who are fickle and don’t care about brand loyalty. We will switch at the drop of a dime if we think the deal is sweater elsewhere. So far it’s not, but that is likely to change very soon.

Xbox 360 Dashboard update

Today Microsoft released the latest Xbox 360 Dashboard update. The big buzz seems to be around its DivX/XviD support, a feature lacking for a long time. Gizmodo has tested it out and the verdict looks good as far as support goes. Right now I play all my audio files off on an old computer hooked up to my HDTV, but it’s a bit of an eye sore sitting in my living room and my first thought was that I would ditch the computer and hook up the external hard drive via USB to the Xbox 360, but alas it was not meant to be.

After much frustration I did a bit of research online. It seems that the Xbox 360 does not support the NTFS file system. What is up with this? NTFS is Microsoft de facto file system now and it’s superior to FAT32. I feel like it’s always something with Microsoft, maybe the next Dashboard update will support NTFS.

Another much talked about feature is the ability to buy Xbox Classic titles online. I just hope you will be able to play these downloaded games on future Xbox consoles, but I’m not holding my breath. The dash interface also seems greatly improved with many ways to filter your results when looking at games and media. You can set up personal bio’s and share your friends list and view others friends lists too. Over all it’s a pretty cool update. You can view Microsoft’s full feature list on Xbox.com.

Outlook 2007 – When is 200 pixels not 200 pixels? Spacer gifs

A large portion of my day is spent designing and marking up solicited email newsletters. I am also a very strong advocate of W3C Web Standards. For anyone who has ever worked on email newsletter, they will know all too well that the above sentences do not mix well.

All web designer’s have faced the many hurdles of browser compatibility. Getting things to work on multiple browser versions and browser types can be a real pain, but this is child’s play compared to the ever changing world of html based email. I’m not going to talk about whether email should have ever been used as a medium to deliver rich content, there is plenty debate about that elsewhere. The fact of the matter is that html email is here, and it’s very popular.

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Illustrator crashes when saving anything!

Well, my copy of Illustrator running on Windows Vista would not save for the past few days. At first I assumed it was a corrupted or funky file problem specific to the one file and found a work around file for Photoshop. A few days later I needed to use Illustrator to copy a vector into Photopshop and convert to a smart object. Every time I cut and pasted Illustrator would hang and then eventually crash and nothing would be pasted into Photoshop. Okay, so I decide I’ll save the Illustrator file and then place it in Photoshop via File / Place. Still no joy, the second I went to save, it crashed. Just to make sure I wasn’t going crazy I created a blank canvas, typed something on it and go to save it, again Illustrator crashes with the message “Adobe Illustrator CS3 has stopped working”. Wonderful, so helpful, and the “Check online for a solution” wasn’t even working for me, but to this date even when it has worked in other programs it rarely provides a useful solution.

Time for some Google power. After doing a few searches I realize that this is not an isolated issue, and could be one of many problems. One post on a forum stands out though. Illustrator CS3, at least on Vista, requires that your Print Spooler be running. Well, this is another issue I have not solved yet. I have a randomly crashing Print Spooler. Anyway, I start up the print spooler and sure enough, Illustrator now saves. Why the print spooler is even needed I don’t know, but I think it would be helpful if when this happens illustrator could recognize it’s not running and say “Hey, your Print Spooler is not running, Illustrator requires it to be on, please start it up”, or something along those lines.

Here’s how you can check your print spooler.

Go to your start menu. In the search box type services. Your services dialog will open. Scroll down to Print Spooler. If it is running already then this might not be your problem, but try restarting it just in case. By the results of my Google search there are many other reasons why Illustrator might not be saving, but hopefully this helps some people out.