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Home / News

Microsoft backs e-mail controls

2003-10-21 14:16:04

Upgrades to Microsoft Outlook e-mail program come with a feature which gives you complete control over what people do with messages or documents.

The software giant says its Information Rights Management system is intended to protect sensitive information.

It is part of the new version of its flagship Microsoft Office, which goes on sale worldwide on Tuesday.

Information overload
Microsoft estimates that there are 300 million copies of Office in use.

This puts control into the hands of the person sending the e-mail, as opposed to allowing the proliferation of messages

Mike Pryke-Smith, Microsoft For the 2003 version, Microsoft has focused on making the software easier to use, instead of building in more and more features.

Information overload is a big problem at the moment said Mike Pryke-Smith, marketing manager at Microsoft, and this is one of the problems we have tried to tackle with this product.

One of the key changes is the Orwellian-sounding Information Rights Management.

Microsoft says this is in response to concerns from its customers about how to prevent sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands.

It reflects the increasing use in companies of electronic means like e-mail discuss sensitive financial or business information.

Do you welcome the new controls on messages? Send us your views

Forwarding is obviously the key issue, said Mr Pryke-Smith. This puts control into the hands of the person sending the e-mail, as opposed to allowing the proliferation of messages.

Set to self-destruct
One of the most infamous examples of this was the case of Claire Swire.

She became a laughing stock around the world in a matter of days after sending a sexually explicit message to her boyfriend.

The new look for Outlook He then forwarded it to a handful of friends, and the message spread around the world in a matter of hours.

In Office 2003, people can limit who else can open, edit, copy or even print a document.

You can even set a time limit on it, so that a document will self-destruct after a set period, though a copy will most likely remain on a central server.

Microsoft says a free viewing program will be available for those who receive a protected document but are not using Office 2003.

The rights management feature, like many of the others in Office 2003, is squarely aimed at businesses. But one aspect that will interest the home user is what Microsoft is doing to stop junk e-mails.

Stopping spam
Outlook has long being a target for spammers and virus writers since it offered virtually no protection against junk messages.

Microsoft has sought to respond to its critics by including automatic spam filtering, which analyses a message to try to work out whether it is junk.

The 2003 version also has lets you build a blacklist of senders to block, as well as a safe list of people whose messages you want to receive.

More significantly, Outlook can automatically block images embedded in e-mails, a common tactic used by spammers.

The image is not actually in the e-mail itself but has to be downloaded from a website, thus showing that an e-mail address is valid and it could mean more junk.

Microsoft has also tweaked Word, Excel and Powerpoint, though the most obvious change is a new, blue colour scheme.

Pay up
Microsoft boss Bill Gates is to unveil the changes to its flagship software package at the products launch in New York on Tuesday.

Office 2003 will be available in a set of packages at range of prices, starting at around 120 for students.

But the programs will only run on a PC with Windows XP or 2000.

Microsoft says it has more than 90% of the market for products like Office. Among its competitors is StarOffice from Sun Microsystems and the open source program, OpenOffice.

Whereas Office can cost hundreds of pounds, OpenOffice can be downloaded for free over the internet.

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