Is Anti-Spam Microsofts Next Target Industry?

By David Coursey  |  Posted 2004-06-02

Is Anti-Spam Microsofts Next Target Industry?

At the risk of seeming ungrateful, I have to wonder whether Microsofts free anti-spam add-on for Exchange servers is really such a good deal.

Sure, it is for me, right now, but isnt this the sort of "good deal" that got Microsoft into trouble with the feds over Netscape? The same sort of "good deal" that eventually drove WordPerfect and Lotus to ruin? Or Apple, DR-DOS, et al?

This is another case where we have to consider the "Microsoft question," which is: How many browsers/office suites/desktop operating systems/whatever does the marketplace really need? How many are customers willing to support with their dollars? How many "standards" need to exist?

So far, the answer has been a resounding "one." Thats one desktop OS, one Office suite and one browser.

Does the world need only one anti-spam technology? I dont think so, but its something Id like to explore. Microsofts anti-spam competitors, meanwhile, should already be consulting lawyers.

Click here to read about Microsofts plan to merge its Caller ID for E-mail anti-spam proposal with the Sender Policy Framework.

There is a legitimate question as to whether the mighty Microsoft should ever be allowed to give anything away. At least anything somebody else is already selling.

Microsofts answer to this—and it also is legit—centers around giving customers more for their money. Microsoft does a good job of that, but in a way that decimates less-well-heeled competitors.

How does a one-product company compete with someone who is giving a competing product away for free? And can do so forever? Netscape sure couldnt.

Take my personal situation: I have an Exchange server, and spam is a big problem in my life—and potentially an expensive one. Microsoft now solves this problem for free.

And the new Intelligent Message Filtering technology, already proven on Hotmail and in Outlook 2003, works quite well. Heck, Id probably have been willing to pay for it, though Id hate for Microsoft to think so.

Thank you, Microsoft.

By comparison, a 25-user version of Sunbelt Softwares iHateSpam for Exchange sells for $395, plus a 25 percent annual maintenance agreement.

So, for my tiny network, Microsofts Intelligent Message Filter giveaway saved me more than $500. For a small business, that isnt inconsequential, and for an enterprise, where IMF can be used across a large network—again for free—that savings can really add up.

Of course, money that remains in my pocket is only a good deal for me. But in this case, money that stays in my pocket wont be spent on someone elses anti-spam solution.

Next Page: Microsoft raises concerns when it starts giving something away.


There is an old Microsoft story that comes to mind. I dont know if its true, but it has Bill Gates screaming at someone over losing a $100 sale. And he was yelling not so much because Microsoft didnt get the money, but because a Microsoft competitor did.

There is always a concern when MS starts giving away something that other companies sell. This is how PowerPoint was foisted on a world that had previously been happily buying (much better) presentation software from companies such as Micrografx and Software Publishing.

The "free" PowerPoint was included in the then-new Microsoft Office bundle, and you know how that worked out.

A number of years ago, at a time when it seemed that Japan was about to purchase everything worth having in the United States, there was tremendous concern about something called "dumping."

This was where the Japanese were accused of selling a product, steel as I remember, in the United States for less than it cost to produce it. This was supposed to be how Japan Inc. planned to drive American steelmakers out of business, only to raise prices later.

This isnt what Microsoft is doing—not exactly. The first copy of a piece of software is very expensive to produce, but every copy after that is gravy. Thats different from how the steel industry works, but whatever Microsoft has invested in anti-spam wont be earned back by giving it away.

For insights on security coverage around the Web, check out Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.

As a customer, good, free software is clearly in my self-interest. But is it in my enlightened self-interest? Thats what the Microsoft legal battles never really addressed. And if I were a lawyer, I could take either side of the issue. There are valid points on both sides.

I am not, for example, convinced that Microsofts blowing away competitors has been bad for anyone but the competitors themselves. But its also impossible to say what would have happened if the competition hadnt dried up so completely.

The battle with spam is moving toward authentication. Click here to read more.

On the other hand, no company has the "right" to stay in business if customers dont want to buy its products. Unfair competition, however, is to be avoided. But whats unfair about giving customers more for less, over and over again?

I am undecided about this, but I do know one thing: The anti-spam industry may be the next group of Microsoft competitors to seek a judges answer.

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