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Microsoft to offer more spears to skewer spam

Spam isn't on the menu at Microsoft; it's on the hit list. The company has announced a new spam-killing technology -- a nice little reward for those who upgrade to Exchange Server 2003.

Microsoft is rewarding customers who move up to the newest version of Exchange. The prize? Sophisticated new tools to skewer spam.

Users of Exchange Server 2003, which was released just last month, will get spam-filtering technology called SmartScreen. The technology will be available sometime in the first half of next year and will be part of the Exchange Intelligent Message Filter.

Customers with Software Assurance agreements will receive the spam-filtering tools as part of their existing licensing agreements, said T.A. McCann, group product manager of messaging products at Microsoft. There are no plans to make the technology available to customers who are on Exchange Server 2000 and below.

The software will give administrators the choice of deleting messages, delivering them or placing them into a junk-mail filter. Microsoft has implemented its own filter, which can assign a spam confidence level. Exchange Server 2003 creates a junk-mail folder, where spam is sent. Any user can view the folder to make sure that everything marked is truly spam. Outlook 2003 already has SmartScreen built in, so end users can process spam at the client.

McCann said that the software won't include any new significant reporting or analysis tools, and that it would complement a spam-fighting strategy. "[The software] would be a subset of an overall spam package," McCann said.

One messaging expert said the technology is a step forward for Microsoft. Even though most enterprises are using Exchange Server 2000, Michael Osterman, president of Osterman Research Inc., Black Diamond, Wash., said that he expects to see a large number of companies convert to Exchange 2003 within the next year.

According to a recent study by Osterman Research, 1.5% of Exchange customers "definitely" will not upgrade to Exchange 2003, and 27.3% are not sure if they will upgrade. This is a higher upgrade rate than is expected for IBM Lotus Notes/Domino users. The study found that 8.8% of ND users say they "definitely" will not upgrade to the newest version of Domino, and 20.6% are not sure if they will upgrade.

Osterman said that 80% of organizations have already installed antispam software, up from 70% in April 2003. In addition, one in six organizations is not satisfied with the spam-capture efficiency of their current antispam software, he said.

It's unlikely that spam will ever go away, but technology can do much to knock off the most egregious spammers. For its part, McCann said, Microsoft can do a lot to control spam, but it's doubtful that all spam can be blocked. Osterman said that perhaps only 5% of spammers can be stopped, but the resolution of the spam problem will come from better spam-blocking tools at the network perimeter and at the desktop.

There is a growing list of companies in the antispam market that are evolving to create a messaging thread market. Their point solutions are expanding antivirus, antispam and anti-porn tools into a single package. "The market is evolving from separate solutions to a messaging firewall, where one product blocks major messaging threads," Osterman said.


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