I work as a project manager for a very large ISP that Dilbert readers would sometimes find strangely familiar. But nothing prepared me for the shock and disbelief I experienced when some of my co-workers in the information systems division asked me why I kept sending them mail written in 10-point Courier New font whereas I was sending them plain text.

Following on their remark I soon found that many people found likewise that my messages are difficult to read because of that poor choice of font. Apparently, no one realized that plain text is rendered as whatever you want it to render as, including Fette Fraktur or even Zapf Dingbats if you fancy hieroglyphic form.

Sometimes I wonder if I am really working for an ISP. If you think that such company is an oasis of Internet culture, then if you joined one nowadays you would be sadly disappointed.

Anyway here is a tip for them, straight from the horse’s mouth :

  1. From the main Microsoft Outlook window, on the “Tools” menu, click “Options” and then click the “Mail Format” tab.
  2. Click “Fonts“.
  3. Next to the “When composing and reading plain text” box, click “Choose Font“.
  4. Select the fonts you want, and then click “OK“.
  5. Enjoy my plain text messages in your favorite font and size.

Plain text grants the recipient freedom to render as he sees fit, including in Braille or as audio speech – plain text is that flexible.

I do not have a fetish for the spartan aesthetics of plain text in green monospace font on a black text console. What I appreciate is universal portability : I can read plain text on any device in any situation and process it with any tool including old or underpowered ones – and I actually do. That is the power of plain text.

Of course, as an interpreted markup language, HTML can also be rendered in a variety of ways and I could probably use it, but plain provides even more freedom. HTML being a standard I nevertheless welcome it in my mailbox even if I seldom send any HTML mail. A good maxim to live by when you are writing anything which has to interoperate with other systems is : “Be liberal in what you receive, and conservative in what you send”. It is as old as the Internet but it’s a great way to make things highly compatible and interoperable.

Writing this rant probably dates me as a unixian dinosaur… But it could be worse : just wait until someones gets me started about proper mail quoting !