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Hotmail serving different content for different browsers

Posted by Mark Wyner on November 28, 2007 in Email Client News

While putting our acid test through the paces it became apparent that Windows Live Hotmail (WLH) was exhibiting odd behavior in two different browsers. We tested our webmail clients in a couple different browsers not knowing the browsers themselves would have an impact on rendering. As it turns out, it unfortunately does.

In the case of WLH we encountered unique rendering of our acid test in each browser we tested: Firefox (Mac/Win), Safari (Mac/Win) and Internet Explorer (Win). The WLH generated/modified markup was slightly different in each browser as was the visual results. The thing to keep in mind here is this isn’t a browser rendering issue. Our acid test looks perfect in all three browsers, it’s the changes that WLH is making on the fly to the content itself that seems to be the issue here, which these screenshots demonstrate:

Our acid test page rendered in WLH with Firefox

Our acid test page rendered in WLH with Safari

Unfortunately it doesn’t end there. As well as the discrpeancies between Firefox and Safari, we were also presented with different rendering in Internet Explorer depending on the “version” of WLH we were using.

“Classic” versus “Full”

There are two versions of WLH: “Classic” and “Full”. Classic is an enhanced version of the original Hotmail GUI and Full is the new WLH GUI. One can switch between the two at any given time, and even go back and forth at will. It may be that Microsoft will simply upgrade everyone to the Full version at some point. But as of now, it’s a user-defined option.

The primary difference is the functionality of the application. The Full version is an AJAX-type interface with a preview pane, while Classic is faster with less bells and whistles.

So do they render emails differently? Yes, and no. It depends on what browser one is using to access an account. In Firefox and Safari, for example, switching between Full and Classic has little-to-no impact on the rendering of an HTML email. However, in IE there is a significant difference: Classic failed to render any of our CSS while Full rendered it fairly well.

Our acid test page rendered in WLH with Internet Explorer “Full” version

Our acid test page rendered in WLH with Internet Explorer “Classic” version

These findings mean that there are at least four different versions of content being served by this single email client depending on the browser and version being used. For our recommendations we used Firefox, which is actually one of the more favorable results out of these variations.

Stay Tuned for a Full Report

We intend to conduct some in-depth tests to help us better understand how WLH will render our HTML emails across various browsers and how this impacts our recommendations. We would like to help Microsoft with a comprehensive report so they can fully understand what we’d like to see with future updates of WLH. After all we can speak first hand about the labor required to test a webmail client. And, of course, they have it worse because while we simply report test results, they are charged with the task of making things right.

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