Emacs Should Support HTML Mail

By Xah Lee. Date:

This article suggests that it is a good idea that emacs's mail facilities (rmail, gnus, vm) support receiving and reading HTML mail.

Tim wrote: «In general, HTML in mail messages is a bad thing.».

HTML in email is a very good thing.

From the technology point of view, it is far more powerful than plain text. For example, it can contain links, bold text, coloring, embedded images, systematic styles (CSS), dynamic behavior (Javascript). It is bulkier than plain text in size, of course, but in today's youtube days, this doesn't matter. Also note, email is still sent by first converting to a ASCII encoding. This is invented by the unix folks, which is extremely inefficient.

From the social point of view, HTML is also far more useful, and people want the ability to have colored text, embed images, attachments. I don't have stats on this, but it is my guess that some 80% email traffics today, are in HTML. Human animals, collectively, want it.

Arguably, another format, such as RTF that WAS espoused by Apple computer's email software Mail for a number of years in the early 2000s, is a better tech than HTML for rich text in email. But for whatever social reasons it didn't catch on. Html is the de facto standard today for rich text in email.

Also, as i mentioned before, tools used by tech geekers usually have 5 or more so years lagging in catching up with any tech that are being adapted in the commercial world. For example, HTML email has basically became the standard in Microsoft since maybe 2002, and HTML is widely supported or in fact default format for commercial web based service provider since many years ago too.

Convenient Wikipedia links: HTML e-mail.

Tech geekers often have a irrational fetish towards plain text email. I wrote a essay back in 2002 detailing my thoughts on this: See: Plain-Text Email Fetish.


This essay is originally a post on gnu.emacs.help, At http://groups.google.com/group/gnu.emacs.help/browse_frm/thread/9d9049c471d8764a.

Priority Of Adapting HTML Mail

I believe that emacs should adapt the ability to send and receive HTML mail, however, i do not think it is a priority. The above essay was originally just a spontaneous discussion on “gnu.emacs.help”.

Among emacs's potential improvements, there are several that are far more easier to fix and has far more impact than the ability to handle HTML mail. For example, see Modernization of Emacs.

Even if we were to put priority on improving emacs's email feature, it would be far more pertinent to create a robust interface for web based email, because, today vast majority of people reads email online with mail service providers such as Google Mail, Yahoo! Mail, Microsoft's Hotmail, using a web browser. Few are actually using a standalone Email client. Among programers, there are even fewer who actually still use a text-based email client. Most people who uses emacs do not use its email client features.

Emacs Modernization

  1. Simple Changes Emacs Should Adopt
  2. Why Emacs Keys are Painful
  3. Problems of the Scratch Buffer
  4. M-key Notation vs Alt+key Notation
  5. Menu Problem
  6. Mode Line Problem
  7. cua-mode Problems
  8. kill-buffer Induces Buffer Accumulation
  9. Emacs Form Feed ^L
  10. Inconsistency of Search Features
  11. Single Key to Delete Whole Line
  12. Emacs HTML Mode Sucks
  13. Emacs Does Not Support Viewing Images Files In Windows
  14. Emacs Spell Checker Problems
  15. Adopt HTML as Texinfo Replacement
  16. Support HTML Mail
  17. Problems of “man” Command
  18. Emacs Lisp Mode Syntax Coloring Problem
  19. Emacs Ahk Mode Problems
  20. Problems of Emacs's Manual
  21. Problems of Emacs's Manual; Examples
  22. Emacs: Have You Read Emacs Manual?
  23. Elisp: Ban Syntax Table
  24. Emacs: Make elisp-index-search use Current Symbol
  25. Emacs: Usability Problems of Mode Documentation
  26. Problems of Emacswiki
  27. Emacs GNU Texinfo Problems; Invalid HTML
  28. A Record of Frustration in IT Industry; Disappearing FSF URLs, 2006
  29. Emacs Manual Node Persistency Issues
  30. Emacs: dired-do-query-replace-regex Replace ALL (fixed)
  31. Problems of Emacs Supporting Obsolete Systems
  32. Elisp: Function to Copy/Delete a Dir Recursively (fixed)
  33. Thoughts on Common Lisp Scheme Lisp Based Emacs
  34. Text Editors Popularity and Market Research
  35. Text Editor's Cursor Movement Behavior (emacs, vi, Notepad++)
  36. GNU Emacs Development Inefficiency
  37. Emacs Dev Inefficiency and Emacs Web 2.0?
  38. Letter-Case Commands Usability Problems
  39. Emacs: Select Line, between Quotes, Extend Selection
  40. Emacs: isearch Current Word
  41. Suggestions on Line Wrap Commands
  42. Emacs: Single Key to Delete Whole Line
  43. Emacs Cult Problem: Emacs vs Windows Notepad
  44. Emacs Undo and Emacs Cult Problem

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