In an open letter to customers posted Wednesday to the Microsoft Web site, Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates pledged to step up his company's efforts to combat spam, or junk mail, through technological innovation and partnerships with other companies and governments. Gates notes that spam is a "ridiculous … nuisance and a distraction," and a plague that preys on less sophisticated email users, including children. Indeed, as Gates writes, spam is now such a problem that it threatens to undo much of the good that email has achieved.

"Recognizing the increasing urgency of the \[spam\] issue, we recently created a new Anti-Spam Technology and Strategy Group that brings together specialists from across the company and integrates all of our anti-spam strategy and R&D efforts," Gates wrote. "These efforts across many fronts should lead to a world where we are less troubled by spam. As less of it reaches recipients--and violators face stiffer sanctions for illegal activities--the financial incentives for spammers will decrease, and spamming will lose much of its appeal."

Gates says that Microsoft's efforts to end spam are multi-faceted. First, the company is creating new anti-spam technologies and integrating them into its messaging-related products, such as Exchange, Outlook, and MSN/Hotmail; he notes that Microsoft's Hotmail service now blocks over 2.4 million spam messages every day, thanks to smart filters on the email servers. Second, the company is shutting down spammers that violate MSN's anti-spam account policies, working to prevent spammers from creating fraudulent accounts they can use to bulk email potential victims, and working with US legislators seeking to strengthen the ability of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as MSN to sue spammers on behalf of their customers. Third, Microsoft is supporting a change in the underlying email technology that would prevent spammers from spoofing legitimate email addresses, which make spam messages look like they're coming from users' friends, families and coworkers. Fourth, the company is working with other ISPs to develop better ways of preserving evidence of spammers' activities. And finally, Microsoft is working to force senders of unsolicited email to use a special subject line tag, making it easier for users to filter out unwanted email.

For more information about Microsoft's plans to battle spam, please visit the Microsoft Web site.