Yes, the world's wealthiest man also gets unwanted commercial e-mail offering help to get out of debt or get rich quick. "It's ridiculous," Bill Gates wrote in an e-mail message sent Tuesday.

Spam is a plague that threatens to undo much of the good that e-mail has achieved, the Microsoft Corp. chairman and chief software architect wrote in an e-mail sent to subscribers of Microsoft's Executive E-Mail list on Tuesday. Executive E-Mail is a public mailing list hosted by Microsoft.

Gates explained some of the work Microsoft is doing to combat the influx of spam, noting there is "no easy fix."

Microsoft is attacking spam on several fronts, most recently filing 15 lawsuits in the U.S. and the U.K. against companies and individuals allegedly responsible for sending billions of spam messages.

The Redmond, Washington, software maker is also working with other industry players and is lobbying for spam regulation. Furthermore, a recently created Anti-Spam Technology and Strategy Group at Microsoft is working on advanced filtering technologies that will block spam before it reaches a user's inbox, Gates wrote. [See, "Microsoft, Symantec give Senate recipes for frying spam," May 21, and "AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo push effort to fight spam," April 28.]

Smart filters are one new technology meant to help stem the tide of spam. These filters learn what a user regards as spam and become more effective over time. This type of protection is harder for spammers to circumvent than, for example, blocking of e-mail based on subject line or the address it was sent from.

New filtering technologies are already part of some Microsoft products, including MSN 8 and Hotmail. In addition, Exchange Server 2003 and Outlook 2003, due out later this year, will have better spam guards, according to Gates' e-mail.

Part of Microsoft's antispam effort is devoted to finding a way for "legitimate commercial e-mail" to find its way to the consumer. Microsoft proposes establishing independent e-mail trust authorities to establish and maintain commercial e-mail guidelines and certify senders who follow those guidelines. Those who don't follow the guidelines would have to add an "ADV" (advertisement) label to the subject line of the message, Gates wrote. He did not detail how those policies would be enforced.

Microsoft's chief spam fighter, Ryan Hamlin, general manager of Microsoft's Antispam Technology and Strategy Group, late last month said all the efforts to fry spam should lead to spam being contained within two years. However, before that time, spam will reach unprecedented proportions, he warned.