There is something luddite-ish about the current attitude to HTML email, even from those who take a measured approach. Some people are dead against it, recommending that you configure your clients to avoid it, and damning anyone who dares to send it.Even the Washington Post has now joined the campaign, motivated in part by Microsoft’s continuing inability to render HTML (whether in email or on a web page) without introducing security holes.
But in truth, only a very few of the arguments hold water. Arguments about bandwidth use, or storage costs, could equally well be applied to any number of technologies, not least the web itself. They are the relics of a different era.
Likewise, modern email tools are perfectly able to search HTML or text emails in a way that is transparent to the user. Arguing that email users should not have access to different fonts or colours is much like arguing that they should still be using the word processors of 1987 as well. Aside that from those who work in IT or have a long history with computers, the bulk of email I receive nowadays is HTML, and I am hesitant to continue sending text-only email because outlook express (the default client of much of the world) renders the text in an almost deliberately ugly fashion. While computer purists may protest, there is little point in deliberately making one’s email seem unprofessional.
Most people like to read proportional fonts on the screen, and the only way to ensure your email is displayed in a proportional font by many (very popular) clients is to embrace HTML email. Of course some people send badly designed messages, but arguing that people shouldn’t have access to a tool in case they misuse it is much like saying that CSS or font controls shouldn’t be allowed on the web in case people were to come up with bad designs.
A 19th Century manners book that I happened to see recently advised against using any paper or ink for correspondence that was likely to draw undue attention to itself. That’s still good advice today.