Microsoft will start charging for a Hotmail feature that allows users of the web-based e-mail service to access their e-mail using the Outlook e-mail client.
Microsoft is making the move because the feature is being abused by senders of spam, said Brooke Richardson, lead product manager for MSN at Microsoft.
"Essentially what spammers do is create scripts so they can rapid-fire e-mail from Outlook or Outlook Express and pop off a hundred e-mails from each of those Hotmail accounts in rapid succession," he said.
To prevent abuse of the feature, Microsoft is stopping making it available to new users of free Hotmail and MSN mail accounts. Current users can continue to use the feature but will be asked to become Hotmail subscribers over the coming months. By April 2005, the feature will no longer be available for free.
The Hotmail and MSN mail feature is known as WebDAV, after the web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV) protocol that enables it. It is enabled on about 5%, or 9.4 million, of the 187 million active Hotmail accounts.
Microsoft had to take the step "for greater good" of the Hotmail and e-mail community, Richardson said. Furthermore, rival web-based e-mail providers such as Yahoo already charge for similar functionality, she said.
Other actions that Microsoft has taken to prevent abuse of Hotmail by senders of spam include a limit on outgoing messages of 100 per day on free accounts and an extra validation requirement when signing up for an account.
Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service