Outlook 2007 in Curmudgeon Mode

I am fed up with HTML email. I’m not sure if I just got one too many horrible emails with fuchsia comic sans text on a mauve background or white text on black background which becomes black text on black background after reply or forward. Or maybe it was the series of HTML email security disasters in Outlook 2002 from Office XP that could sploit you by just previewing a message. Probably both.

Regardless, I started reading all of my Outlook email as plain text in early 2002. I rarely want to look at the messages in HTML. I just I want everything to be plain text by default. That probably makes me a tech curmudgeon but life is so much better this way.

  • Phishing looks much more fishy in plain text because the evil URLs are exposed.
  • I get to choose the most readable font and color—Consolas 10.5 Black—instead of the sender—Comic Sans MS 12 Pink. (Seriously, I have known several people love to send email in big pink comic sans.)
  • The Internet Explorer (mshtml) HTML rendering engine is not invoked unless I specifically request the email to be displayed as HTML.
  • Rendering plain text defeats web beacons and exposes tracking URLs that marketing people hide in HTML email to track your behavior.

HTLM email is really most useful for marketing campaigns, hackers and phishers. The simplest way to opt-out of the target pool is to opt-out of HTML email.

Since Outlook 2002 SP1, Outlook has the capability to string HTML from incoming messages and display them as plain text. It started out as a registry tweak when the feature was rolled out with SP1 for Office XP, but it is now a full-fledged option.

Tools > Trust Center > Email Security

Check the “Read all standard mail in plain text” option.

outlook-trust-center

Outlook has a dubious feature whereby it attempts to remove “extra” line breaks from plain text messages by default.

And I also don’t want Outlook to reformat my plain text because it messes up code, other deliberate formatting and PGP signed messages.

Tools > Options > Email Options (button)

Uncheck “Remove extra line breaks in plain text messages”

dont-reformat-plain-text

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My First Chrome Extension

I am fairly hooked on Microsoft Outlook and I like to use the RSS reader function. I also have been living in Chrome 4 instead of Firefox for a few weeks now. One of the features of Firefox and IE is the ability to discover RSS and ATOM feeds and pass them to the registered feed reader.

Google has an extension for Chrome that almost does what I want. It discovers the feeds but it will only subscribe them with a web-based feed reader. What I did was hack on the RSS Subscriptions Extension (by Google) so that it would work with Outlook.

screen-shot

Outlook feeds by registering itself as the handler for the FEED scheme.

hkcr-scheme

That means anything that tries to invoke a URI like feed://somewhere.com/feed.rss, Outlook will be invoked with the /share switch like this:

"C:\PROGRA~1\MICROS~2\Office14\OUTLOOK.EXE"/share "feed://somewhere.com/feed.rss”

Outlook is very picky about the scheme on the URL. It has to be feed:// or it won’t work and that is the problem with the Google extension. It always puts the http:// scheme onto the URL and it assumes that you are going to embed this into a larger querystring to a web-based feed aggregator.

It was pretty easy to tweak the extension to do what I wanted. The meat of the change is really just one line of code:

url = url.replace( "%f", feedUrl.replace( "http:", "feed:" ) );

That makes it so that %f is a feed: scheme URI that will invoke the registered feed handler. For me this is Outlook 2010.

edit-shot

There is a little bit of supporting stuff here and there to make this work, but that’s the gist. Now, %f is the magic configuration to invoke the registered feed:// scheme application. It was surprisingly easy to get hacking on the extension and Google made it very easy to publish my work.

If this scratches your itch, you can get it from Chrome Extensions site.

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