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MS protects Mac but not Windows users with web bug mail firewall

Four legs good, two legs bad

Not all Microsoft mail clients are created equal.

Dan Gillmor of the San Jose Mercury has unearthed an intriguing difference between the protection afforded to users of Microsoft mail clients running on Windows or the Macintosh.

Mac users running Entourage, the mail client-cum-PIM that debuted with Office 2001, have the option of turning off HTML mail, writes Dan. But that's an option not available to Outlook Express users on Windows.

As he pointed out in his weblog last week, turning off HTML mail is a basic security precaution, as web bugs in HTML mail messages can reveal information about you that you'd really not want a spammer to know.

Gillmor's enquiries produced this pasteurised response from Microsoft:

"Q: Why is it possible to disable HTML in Entourage?
A: This was a choice the Mac team made to provide this option for Entourage customers. ... Outlook will look into providing the option to disable HTML mail if we hear that our customers are concerned about this. Since most Outlook users are protected by corporate or private firewalls and no identifying information can be found through 'Web Bugs', our customers have not been concerned about this issue to date."

The answer implicitly recognizes that the ability to block HTML mail nasties is a protection equivalent to having an extra, personal firewall. Surely something all users would want?

Not quite. Microsoft explains that Outlook users on Windows "like HTML mail and have not asked that this feature be disabled, or have the option for being disabled [our emphasis].

Which can lead you to two conclusions: Mac users are vociferous enough, and savvy enough with the problem to be blessed with the extra protection. But Windows users aren't.

In a supplement to yesterday's log, Seattle Times Mac columnist Glenn Fleishman adds that Eudora for Windows gives users the option of using the Microsoft HTML engine, or its own built-in HTML rendering engine which displays HTML mail but firewalls you off from background HTML transactions.
Fleishman adds:- "On the Mac, Eudora and Outlook Express both appear to use Apple's URL Access extension for handling HTTP at a system level. URL Access doesn't do cookies in any form. Eudora for Mac can have automatic image downloading disabled as a separate option with a button that appears that can be clicked to download images on a specific message."

Much kudos should go to Microsoft's Mac team for having the sensitivity to recognize that users want the freedom to turn off HTML nasties. While a reproachful raspberry goes to their Windows counterparts.

Sure, the Windows market outnumbers the Mac market ten to one, and is bound to include a disproportionate number of computer neophytes. But that market also numbers many tech savvy users too, and we're only talking about an option here, not a default. Is it asking too much to give Windows users Mac equality? ®

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