It’s Gray!

17 10 2010

Imagine you’re anticipating receiving an important email and when you open it up the background is gray — dark gray to be precise. I recently began noticing that for some odd reason most of my email was arriving bearing such a dismal background color. You might think that I’m anti-gray but that is hardly the case. My fall wardrobe currently has several items in various shades of gray. But, when that color accompanies email text, the view is most unpleasant as one attempts to discern the contents.

If you’ve done any amount of programming, you might feel fairly confident to tackle the seemingly small challenge of removing the offensive background and restoring the default of white or ivory or whatever background color your eyes enjoy. After spending a considerable amount of time and finding yourself still stuck and clueless as to the remedy, your self-confidence may start to wane.

After clicking various links and buttons, I finally swallowed my pride and sought help from an IT Customer Service Rep available via chat from my ISP. Never even saw the guy’s face but nonetheless gave this stranger remote access to my box, trusting that he’d speedily get to the crux of the problem and solve it. Imagine my amazement when I saw that techie’s cursor hitting all the same places I had clicked or moused over. The guy must have spent at least an hour or more and came up with the same result as me, i.e. nothing! Yep, he didn’t know any better than me how to fix things. The help session ended with an abrupt disconnection and I was left staring into the gray.

Despite the late hour, I was determined to get this problem resolved. Again, I went through the chat system and trusted yet another stranger to freely roam throughout my file system. This guy had impeccable manners and like the first guy spent well over an hour trying to fix the sorry state of my email. Unlike the first guy, the second one after exhausting every possible link and button associated with the email system, concluded that my email installation had probably gone bad for reasons unknown. He was convinced that all I need do is reinstall my emailer to speedily resolve this matter.

I politely listened to the advice which seemed logically way off to my way of thinking. He instructed me about what to back up and where to get the software to perform the reinstallation. Then the rep signed off leaving me alone to deal with the problem. Maybe if the rep had been willing to do the reinstallation for me, it would have happened. But, the hour was really late now– approaching 2am and suddenly I was starting to feel the effects of putting in a full day’s work, having risen before the sun came up the day before. So, I thought I’d just take a quick minute and use google to see if anyone else on the planet had ever encountered such an issue.

In less than two minutes, I learned that indeed others have also shared my predictament! Better still, someone provided a helpful answer and another an intelligent explanation. See http://ask.metafilter.com/39214/Gray-backgrounds-in-Outlook-email

What is amazing is that someone back in 2006 wrote about the gray email backgrounds and apparently it’s still an issue! The problem occurs when one is using Windows and unchecks the “Use Windows Colors” in the MSIE browser. This anomaly or glitch (however you wish to designate it) occurs independent of browser version with respect to MSIE as my current version of that browser is 8 while in 2006, users of MSIE tended to use 5.5 or 6.x. But why should MSIE effect email?

If you’re on Windows, you may be using without being aware email software, such as Outlook or TotalAccess, that depends on MSIE to render HTML email. Guess what happens if that browser is not using Windows colors? Email with gray backgrounds! A poster named “aubilenon” at the above-referenced link explains:

Even text mail is being internally translated into HTML and rendered as such (which is why URLs in text email are clickable).

Once I clicked in the specified checkbox to indicate that MSIE should use Windows colors, all was well; white backgrounds adorned my email once more.

Moral of the story: Some would say that Windows or M$ “sucks” but I think the better message is that one needs to always be a tad wary before accepting the advice of the “experts”. Sometimes a little skepticism can save the day — that and good Samaritans on the Internet.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License
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