Viewing HTML messages as plain text


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Step-by-step instructions on forcing plain text display of all emails in Outlook or Outlook Express.

It is possible to force all incoming messages to be displayed as plain text in either Outlook or Outlook Express and in this issue we’ll tell you how to do that, in case you prefer that option.


Pros and Cons

Some people are concerned about the possibility of virus infection via a HTML email.

It is possible for some maliciously made web pages could drop unwanted software onto your computer – that’s also possible with a HTML email message. Such infection is possible but very, very rare. It’s much harder to do now as additional safeguards are added to Windows, Internet Explorer, Outlook and Outlook Express.

Phishing attempts are more likely with HTML messages (because they can obscure the real web link) but some plain text phishing messages have been tried.

I could easily be described as an email-addict, and I use HTML-mail all the time, but have never been impacted by a malicious HTML-message. Most are stopped before I they get to me and the few that I do see are blocked from doing anything dangerous.

Most spam filters on email hosts will also detect common infected emails and phishing attempts long before you ever see them.

Add to that the protection provided by anti-spyware and anti-virus software – so even if something does try to infect your computer via a web page or HTML email it will be detected before it’s a danger.

There is some concern that HTML emails are larger than their plain text versions, however for many people the size difference isn’t a concern.


The good side of HTML emails

Balance those rare possibilities against that the benefits of HTML emails.

They are much easier to read even with simple formatting like bold, italic, lists etc. Sure, there are some ugly emails just as there can be ugly web pages.

On balance we are comfortable to display HTML formatted emails and suggest you do too (provided you have up-to-date security on your computer). The benefits outweigh the relatively small risks.

And finally HTML formatted email is here to stay. Even if you have a strong opinion against it, the reality is that it’s increasingly the way people prefer to send and receive their messages.

I know that’s not a popular opinion with some people – at the Office Watch HQ we know this issue might provoke strongly-worded emails from the anti-HTML email lobby.

Our purpose here is to show you how to effectively disable HTML email viewing in Outlook and Outlook Express. Even though it’s not something we do ourselves nor recommend, we respect your wish to do otherwise.


HTML email is still there

These settings change the way the email message is displayed – the HTML email remains stored on your computer in the original format.

You can switch to displaying a message in the original format – though that’s not easy in some circumstances.

That’s a necessary option because the display of a properly formatted email in plain text format is often hard to read and not appearing in the way the sender intended. Sometimes you need to switch back to the original view.

Outlook 2003

This is the easiest one to change. Go to Tools | Options | Preferences | Email Options and check the option ‘Read all standard mail in plain text’.

67 Outlook 2003 change to plain text display - Viewing HTML messages as plain text

 

A nice option is to display digitally signed email in the original format, leave the ‘Read all digitally signed mail in plain text’. Sadly too few people send emails with digital signatures.

Outlook 2007

The next version of Outlook has the same feature as Outlook 2003 but the switch is in a different place – Tools | Trust Center | Email Security.

67 Outlook 2007 change to plain text display - Viewing HTML messages as plain text

 

Check the option ‘Read all standard mail in plain text’.

A nice option is to display digitally signed email in the original format, leave the ‘Read all digitally signed mail in plain text’. Sadly too few people send emails with digital signatures.

Outlook 2002 (XP)

In Outlook 2002 (in Office XP) you need to have Outlook 2002 with Service Pack 1 or later.

Sadly changing the feature isn’t as easy. You need to change the Windows registry and, as always, be very careful doing that.



  • Close Outlook entirely, which means disconnecting any PDA’s that link to Outlook.
  • Start RegEdit
  • Find HKEY_CURRENT_USER­Software­Microsoft­Office­10.0­Outlook­Options­Mail
  • Choose Edit | New | DWord from the menu to create a new registry entry
  • Label the new entry “ReadAsPlain” – without the quotes
  • Double-click the newly created ‘ReadAsPlain’ entry so you can edit it.
  • Enter the value “1” – again without the quotes.
  • Close Regedit
  • Restart Outlook. If all messages don’t show up in plain text then carefully check the registry setting or if Outlook was truly shut-down.



Outlook Express

The only versions of Outlook Express that can force plain text display are version 6 with Service Pack 1 and any later.

 

67 Outlook Express 6 change to plain text display - Viewing HTML messages as plain text

Go to Tools | Options | Read tab,choose the ‘Read all messages in plain text’ check box under Reading Messages.

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