Column

Will Gates' e-mail postage idea stamp out spam?

John Hogan

Among the earliest Internet "urban legends" was the one circulated by an e-mail message that implored people to forward it to everyone they knew as a sign of solidarity against proposed federal legislation to charge postage for e-mail messages.

The reference to legislation was bogus, of course. But because the spam problem is so bad today, perhaps the idea of e-mail postage isn't so preposterous after all. Gates launched a public dialogue on the issue at the World Economic Forum when he suggested that the junk e-mail problem could be solved in as little as two years by charging e-mail senders.

Both Yahoo and Microsoft are studying the possibility of developing or adopting such technology, which could take a while to develop. One idea is to create a system by which users could set a price for accepting an e-mail. The fee could be waived for family members or friends.

It's a lot less clear how this notion would affect e-mail traffic in the enterprise, since the relationships between senders and recipients there is so complex. Waive the fee for a partner that regularly corresponds with your business, but force a potential -- though unknown -- customer to pay to send an inquiry? That would be corporate hara-kiri.

The cynics among us might suggest that this is just a ploy by software companies and Internet service providers to create new revenue streams. Although there's probably some truth to that, it's time to start taking some action against

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spam, even if it's drastic action.

Attack on Microsoft.com fails

This week, a planned attack on Microsoft's Web site by the authors of the Mydoom-B worm fizzled. Security experts say that a combination of sloppy code writing in the "B" strain of the worm and some precautionary measures by Microsoft caused the denial-of-service attack to fall flat on its face. Among the steps that Redmond took was to create a backup site to Microsoft.com.

In an unrelated security matter, howls of protest emanated from the developer community over Microsoft's patch to fix a flaw in Internet Explorer that was being used by Internet scammers to create official-looking fake e-commerce sites. The patch forced many programmers to change the way users access their organizations' password-protected Web sites. Microsoft acknowledged the pain it caused, but a spokesman said that security for its products has to come first.

Redmond-funded study questioned

Those programmers aren't the only ones who felt pain this week. Jupiter Research took some lumps for a study -- paid for by Microsoft -- that said Redmond got higher marks for application interoperability than Linux. Nearly a year ago, Forrester Research got some bad publicity over similar research that was favorable to, and sponsored by, Microsoft.

In an interview with SearchWin2000.com, Jupiter vice president Michael Gartenberg defended the validity of the study. "The study focused on technical elements and interoperability and was [in] no way specific to Microsoft's products," he said.

And in the hotly contested database market, Oracle Corp. is making a play for Microsoft SQL Server customers by cutting the price of the low-end version of its database. This is an interesting strategy for Oracle, which has long had a reputation for creating very good database software at very high prices.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Yahoo, Microsoft studying e-mail postage

Microsoft sets up alternate Web site

Microsoft IE patch leaves users locked out

Vendor-funded research falls on deaf ears

Oracle 10g priced to compete with SQL Server


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