Email – plaintext and appropriate attachments recommended

I feel compelled to comment today upon the propensity of many to compose their emails in HTML, complete with pictures, fancy fonts, etc. This is one of the areas where I am a “conservative.” (gasp!) … You’ll notice that my emails are almost always sent in PLAIN TEXT (2). Let me tell you why.

  1. Plain text gets to the point, communicating a brief message without distractions.
  2. Plain text does not have the potential to compromise a reader’s system by javascripts, spying web beacons, etc. hidden in the code. (This is mostly for the receiver’s benefit.)
  3. Plain text is “green.” It simply uses less bandwidth, storage space, etc.

Of course, there may be times when “fancy” is appropriate – where we want more formatting. This may include when one wants text formatting, pictures, etc. for emphasis: it may also include when one wants the same, only with WYSIWYG (“What you see is what you get”) fidelity. It may also include when one wants to send specific data – say a spreadsheet. There are some recommendations for these situations as well.

  • If you simply want pictures and fancy formatting, go ahead and use HTML. Most email programs allow this option now (even web mail). You might want to leave this option off, and turn it on only when you want it. You can also edit a document in a word processor, like, save it as HTML, and attach it, if that gives you more familiar and better tools for formatting.
  • If you want WYSIWYG, then use your OpenOffice and export as a PDF. (Other programs may also create PDFs, but call it “save as” – e.g. AbiWord.) … Note: Even shipping a word processing document will not get you WYSIWYG, as printers vary and so do fonts. (Recognizing the threat to their crumbling monopoly, Microsoft is scheming in their latest Word 2007 to introduce new proprietary fonts to deliberately introduce such incompatibilities(!), Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols informs.)
  • If you want to use word processing documents, spreadsheets, etc., stick with open formats such as Open Document (ODT is text, ODS is spreadsheet). These international ISO standards are emerging as the lingua franca of documents — and they should be able to be read far into the future! And there are converters for those with software that is deficient in this regard. Do not use Microsoft’s formats. Not only are they inconvenient for the recipient, pressuring them into feeling like they must buy Microsoft’s expensive products; you might even some day be unable to decipher what you have composed. (Sometimes even the latest version of Word cannot open very old ones!)