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Re: Can anybody tell me how to send HTML-format mail in gnus

From: Tim X
Subject: Re: Can anybody tell me how to send HTML-format mail in gnus
Date: Sat, 09 Aug 2008 01:19:16 +1000
User-agent: Gnus/5.13 (Gnus v5.13) Emacs/23.0.60 (gnu/linux)

Xah <address@hidden> writes:

> On Aug 7, 10:54 pm, Tim X <address@hidden> wrote:
>> Xah <address@hidden> writes:
>> > Tim X wrote:
>> > «In general, HTML in mail messages is a bad thing.»
>> > HTML in email is a very good thing.
>> I disagree
>> There are a lot of things that could be improved concerning e-mail and
>> its basic infrastructure, but adding HTML to the mess is certainly not
>> one of them and I'm a long way from being convinced that if we did want
>> to add additional control over presentation of e-mail messages that HTML
>> is the answer.
> I agree HTML is the not best technology for rich text in email.
> However, it is just the world's standard.

So, what your really saying is you just want to argue for the sake of
arguing? If you can remember back to my original reply to the OP I
merely said that HTML in e-mail was a bad thing. You also snipped how I
suggested that he could do it if he wanted to. Of course, all you were
interested in is grinding your own axe and looking for any place you can
jump on a soap box!

>> > From the social point of view, HTMl is also far more useful, and
>> > people wants the ability to have colored text, embed images, etc. I
>> > don't have stats on this, but it is my guess that 80%, or perhaps even
>> > 90% of email traffics today, are in html. Human animals, collectively,
>> > want it.
>> You frequently like to quote these bogus percentages. If you don't hae
>> any real figures, they are completely pointless.
>> You also need to
>> acknowledge that your subjective experiences are not the same as
>> the rest of the world. It is these sorts of unfounded claims and bogus
>> facts that undermines many of your arguements. I suspect it also
>> diminishes what many think of your opinions and is likely counter
>> productive to what you want to achieve.
> It's not bogus. If you take the time to research, i think you wouldn't
> call them bogus.

Talk about pot calling kettle black. You wrote "I
don't have stats on this, but it is my guess that 80%, or perhaps even
90% of email traffics today, are in html" - You freely admit you have
not got any stats and that it is a guess. Maybe you should start doing
some research yourself! If you do, forget about results from marketing
companies that have their own axe to grind. Go out and find out from
users what they actually think. I suspect you will find that the vast
majority of users don't really care and most aren't even ware that their
mail is bieng formatted in HTML or that it could just be in plain text. 

> For example, in my last post i linked to Wikipedia
> which contains this paragraph:
> «
> Since its conception, a number of people have vocally opposed all HTML
> e-mail (and even MIME itself), for a variety of reasons. While still
> considered inappropriate in many newsgroup postings and mailing lists,
> its adoption for personal and business mail has only increased over
> time. Some of those who strongly opposed it when it first came out now
> see it as mostly harmless.[2]
> According to surveys by online marketing companies, adoption of HTML-
> capable email clients is now nearly universal, with less than 3%
> reporting that they use text-only clients.[3] A smaller number, though
> still the majority, prefer it over plain text.[4]
> »

yes, and the following paragraphs are less than praising of the benefits
of HTML. In fact, the very next paragraphs say 

"As HTML mail is more complex than plain text, however, it is also more prone
to compatibility issues and problems with rendering consistently across
platforms and software.

Some popular clients do not render consistently with W3C specifications, and
many HTML e-mails are not compliant, either, which may cause rendering or
delivery problems, especially for users of MSN or Hotmail.^[3]"

and still, the real benefits in the sense of what HTML can give you that
you cannot do with plain text and MIME are minimal and largely just
fluff. I also find it ironic that the company that is largely
responsible for the growth of HTML mail has now got the situation where
customers using their mail systems (MSN/Hotmail) have problems with
poorly formatted HTML e-mails!

>> Up until recently, I administered an e-mail system that processed
>> gigabytes of mail per day. While there was a fair amount of HTML based
>> mail, it was less than 50% and nearly 80% of that was just spam. I will
>> readily admit that this is just what I observed in my small corner of
>> the world and this only represents a user base of just over 30,000
>> accounts.
> What comapany or type of company? i mean, what context?
> for example, if you admin some Open Source oriented community, sure
> there's a lot plain text.

No, nothing to do with open source, its a commercial entity with a lot
of education and research centres. Around 60% of the user base are on
Wndows and a bit under 40% on Macs. The remaining couple of percent are
Linux/BSD etc.

> Of the most largest email hoster in the world, gmail, msn, yahoo, are
> probably some 80% market share in terms of email traffic. (again, a
> rough guess. You can do research on the web i think the result is in
> agreement. I use percentage just to be precise, instead of the more
> fuzzy “majority”, “large number”, etc.)

so you use it to sound like you are precise when your making a guess?
Just admit your making a subjective guess and stop trying to make it
sound like you have some authoritative knowledge or research. 

> So, i'd say if you examp gmail, msn, yahoo, probably the bulk of their
> email format is html. In fact, the email account prob default to html,
> and or, any email received is converted to html anyway.

So if its converted to HTML on receipt anyway, how is it soemthing that
is beneficial to the end user as apart form something that just makes
the web interface easier for the provider? 

>> I disagree with your suggestion that HTML is technically superior. You
>> can't just make a sweeping statement like that without actually defining
>> what it is that e-mail is supposed to provide. As someone else pointed
>> out, an F16 is technically superior to a bicycle, but if allyou want to
>> do is go to the corner shop, that technical superiority is not only a
>> waste, but also a handicap.
> HTML is simply technically superior. Sure, F15 is better than bicycle
> but ridiculous. However, HTML is better than plain text in email is
> not ridiculous. It is the standard the world uses by large, and people
> want rich text in email. Wikipedia says the support for html email in
> email programs is 97%.

Your still mixing up cause and effect. Wikipedia also says that many of
those mailers don't do a good or consistent job of rendering the mail
and it makes reference to things like fishing attacks, which are made
possible because of HTML mail. How much of the growth in HTML mail is
due to companies adding that facility to try and get some sort of market
edge? What proportion of users really care whether their e-mail is in
plain text or HTML? How many would have switched to HTML if they actually
had to change the default configuration if it had been set to plain
text out of the box? How many users would be happier if they hadn't been
caught by that fishing attack or their e-mail address had not been
confirmed as legitimate to the spammers when they opened the mail or
their download took only 1/3rd as long or their mailbox was able to
handle 75 percent more messages?  

>> HTML based e-mail has also had the negative tecnical consequence of
>> increasing the number of security issues and exposing users to more
>> vulnerabilities.
> Yeah, so does lots tech has security issues. 

and thats your argument to support making it worse? Just because there
are security issues in some other area is a pretty poor arguement for
adding additional issues in this one.

> Some sys admin refuses to
> install emacs an production server, and i was pissed. Did you know
> that unix is traditinoally the most insecure system?

Hogwash. You have to learn to be a bit more critical in your
reading (I'm assuming you have read that somewhere). Statements like
that are just emotional FUD filled rubbish. For a start, there is no one
Unix - they are all different and have had different volnrabilities. You
also need to distinguish between security issues due to misconfiguration
and security issues that are a result of the fundamental design or poor
programming. Sweeping statements like that mean absolutely nothing. 

Note also, its not bot-nets of UNIX boxes that spammers and a growing
number of serious criminals are using - they are bot-nets of windows

>> It has also wasted huge amount of resources due to the
>> huge increase in message sizes, provides extremely difficult spam
>> detection problems (i.e. using pictures to embed spam text, making it
>> almost impossible to detect effectively via a scan for known spam text)
>> all of which resulting in the need for more bandwidth, more mail servers
>> with more memory and storage and more hardware to perform anti-spam
>> processes - all of which leads to higher costs for all of us. It also
>> ignores the fact that there are still millions of people who don't have
>> broadband and for whom every extra byte of data is an issue.
> Spam happens regardless whether html email is used.
> Perhaps you are suggesting that HTML email increases spam. I disagree.
> I think spam frequency has little to do with email format.
> Perhaps you are suggesting that it is easier to detect spam in plain
> text email. I disagree on this too. There was the I LOVE YOU trojan,
> one of the most damagig bad thing that happened in computer viruses.

As I said in the previous mail, HTML makes it harder to detect the spam
because spammers can embed their message inside an image. You cannot
detect it unless you use sophisticated image analysis software or OCR,
both of which are too resource hungry to be of any practicle use on a
production mail server. I won't even go into the issues of fishing
attacks that HTML enables or the fact spammers can use embedded objects
within the HTML to detect when you open the mail - verifying that it is
a legitimate e-mail address and even recording the time it was opened. 

As to your reference to the "I love you" virus, that isn't what most
people would call spam, but rather a virus. Personally, it didn't bother
me as I'm on one of those traditionally insecure Unix systems that is
not affected by such things and even if someone did send me a virus that
was able to run on my Unix system, it would only have minimal impact due
to the clear seperation between user space and kernel/system space (a
significant reason/cause of many of MS security problems). 
>> My experience has also been that the majority of people who are
>> insistant on using HTML in the mail have little substance in their
>> content. If what you write has real substance, the formatting is almost
>> irrelevant.
> True. I heartily agree. See for example:
> But you can't tell your grandma what to do.

> Grammarian pundits cries and pains and tells you how you should use
> punctuations, and how you should improve your writing ability to
> convey attitude and emotions instead of using smilies, and so on. In
> general, these are not realistic or not applicable.

Well, that certainly doesn't describe my grandmother, my mother or
anyone else I've discussed it with. In fact, despite having helped a lot
of people, I've not yet come across a single person who feels they just
simply must have HTML e-mail. Many think its nice until you point out a
few things, such as the spam stuff, the fact many mail readers don't
render it correctly, the fact that some mail systems will block it, they
fact its a lot larger etc etc and they almost always then ask how they
can turn off HTML formatting of the messages they send.  In fact, the
only time I've come across clients who have insisted on HTML e-mail, it
was because they wanted to use the mail for marketing purposes and are
still caught up in the old brochure midnset. Most of the time, once I
explain some of the issues involved and suggest that a better approach
would be to provide just a basic e-mail with a link to their sales
information on their website, they are more than happy to go that

> Suppose your girlfriend send you a email with the line “i ♥ u!!” with
> the heart in bold and large and color red. Are you gonna bitch how it
> is abuse of fontification and lack of knowledge in writing and waste
> of bandwitth resource?

No I'd just dump her for being a tasteless unimaginative
cliche. Luckily, my current partner has better taste and while not a
person even slightly interested in tech stuff, she is smart enough to
understand the issues and has no problem with plain text. 

This is another point I've noticed with your posts. I think you
unde-estimate people. You seem to have an attitude that anyone who has
even a basic technical grasp of things is a tech geek. In reality, many
people have little problems understanding technology. Many are not at all
interested, but thats different from not being able to udnerstand
it. The teens and 20 somethings, technical
understandning of computers, terminology and concepts is very high. It
appears to drop off a bit in the 40 - 60s for those not that engaged
with technology. Surprisingly, it seems to increase again in the above
60s. In fact, I've assisted quite a few retired people who have jumped
in with both feet and are not only having no problems coming to terms
with it all, are actually really enjoying the challenge and are often
amazed at what they are finding out.

>> > Arguably, another format, such as rich text that is espoused by Apple
>> > computer's email progrm ( ~2002 to ~2006 and no support for html
>> > mail), 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.
>> There are lots of things that become defacto standards, but this doesn't
>> make them necessarily a good thing. Your arguements appear to be very
>> much of the popularist variety - lots of people do it, therefore it must
>> be good or the correct way. In reality, most people don't care and don't
>> even know its going on.
> suggesting the ability for email rmail to support html email is not
> based on popularity or fashion. It's more like real world need versus
> ideologiest's view.

You don't beleive it is a good solution, but you think it is needed
because there is so much of it already - thats what I would call a
popularist perspective. You would possibly argue it is just a pragmatic
perspective - its there so we should just accept it and go with the

My perspective could well be defined as being ideological, but unlike
you, I don't see that as a bad thing as long as its not taken to an
extreme. As I actually provided the OP with suggested solutions and only
mentioned that it was a bad idea to use HTML formatted mail, I don't
think my view is that of an ideological extremist. 

>> > 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.
>> It is true that Microsoft is very much responsible for the growth in
>> HTML based e-mail. This is largely due to the fact that it was at one
>> time the default setting. I have found that often, when I've asked someone 
>> not
>> to send e-mail in HTML format, they are actually surprised to find out
>> that they were i.e. many people don't even realise their mail is being
>> formatted in HTML. The point is that just because many people use it
>> you cannot conclude they are doing so because they want it. In fact, the
>> number of HTML e-mails that are anything other than a very poor
>> formatting of just text far outweighs those where the author is actively
>> formatting their text with features provided by HTML.
> efficiency has to be considered on the whole. The time spend to talk
> to these people about the merits of plain text, is a use of resource.
> Is this resource, for you to teach, and for him to learn, less
> valuable than the seconds or bytes HTML email consumes?

Yes, because the time I spend explaining such things doesn't cost you
and everyone else money. The increased bandwidth, security problems,
spam and added cost of trying to prevent it cost us all because
providers need to cover these expenses somewhere and they do that by
charging us more. 

> arguably, the world could be a much better place, where everyone
> understand all techonolgy and details, and always choice the most
> efficient format. That's a great vision.

Yet you can't resist jumping into a thread like this one to argue
against any attempt to help inform people of such things. In fact, you
often highjack such threads to push your own agenda with total disregard
for the actual point of the question and I note you didn't even attempt
to address the OPs question and conveniently cut out all the text except
that one line which gave you the opening to get on your soap box.  

>> My emacs mail client gives me the choice of viewing mail in HTML or
>> plaiin text. I choose plain text because it is faster and because the
>> HTML version doesn't give me any added value. Note also that links in my
>> text messages are clickable and just as convenient as they would be in
>> HTML, but without all the additional overhead. I can also view image
>> attachments etc. So, all that HTML can really give me are possibly
>> different fonts and colours - I prefer to manage those myself and not
>> have someone else dictate them and as mentioned above, few people
>> actually use these formatting features anyway.
> does rmail support viewing html?

I don't use rmail, so I don't know. However, VM, mew and I believe
wonderlust and gnus do. 
tcross (at) rapttech dot com dot au

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