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Gates wants to make spammers pay

Making spammers pay has long been a dream of e-mail users. Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates says his company wants to make it a reality.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Gates said his company is studying ways to allow e-mail users to charge senders a fee before accepting their messages.

Gates also predicted that spam could be eradicated in two years, an assertion that surprised many technology security experts, who are seeing spam escalate to new heights despite a federal law designed to crack down on the practice.

In his vision put forth in Switzerland, Gates said computer users could set different monetary thresholds for different senders. But such a system is complex, and a Microsoft spokesman said that it is "the least fleshed out" of several initiatives the company is examining.

Microsoft also is studying "challenge-response" technology, in which senders get an automatic response from recipients asking for verification that the sender is a real person. This would cut down on spam, which generally is sent in bulk by computers.

Challenge-response systems are used by some e-mail account providers, including EarthLink Inc. and Mailblocks Inc. But with more than 100-million users of Microsoft's Hotmail and MSN mail services, Gates' company has the ability to alter the e-mail landscape with its initiatives.

E-mail security experts remained skeptical, however, especially about the payment scheme.

XM drops commercials on its satellite radio channels

The satellite radio business is getting feistier.

Leading provider XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. is making its music channels commercial-free, taking away an advantage touted by its more expensive rival, Sirius Satellite Radio Inc.

Sirius executives have said their higher price was justified largely because Sirius delivers commercial-free music, though there are a few ads on its talk, news and sports stations. XM has a similar setup, though it had two minutes of commercials each hour on half of its music channels.

But XM went ad-free on its music channels as of Sunday, without raising the subscription price. XM also plans to introduce local traffic and weather channels in many markets this year.

XM has 1.4-million subscribers to its $9.99-a-month service; Sirius has attracted 261,000 with its $12.95-a-month offering.

Ctrl-Alt-Delete creator retires

David Bradley spent five minutes writing the computer code that has bailed out the world's PC users for decades.

The result was one of the most well-known key combinations around: Ctrl-Alt-Delete. It forces obstinate computers to restart when they will no longer follow other commands.

Bradley, 55, is getting a new start of his own. He retired Friday after 28{ years with IBM.

Bradley joined the company in June 1975 as an engineer in Boca Raton. By 1980, he was one of 12 working to create the IBM PC. Most recently, he worked at IBM's facility in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

The engineers knew they had to design a simple way to restart the computer should it fail. Bradley wrote the code to make it work.

"I didn't know it was going to be a cultural icon," Bradley said. "I did a lot of other things than Ctrl-Alt-Delete, but I'm famous for that one."

Competition heats up on the search toolbar

Firing a salvo in the online-search battle, Microsoft has launched a test version of a new toolbar that emphasizes search through its online portal, MSN.

When users download the free software toolbar, single-click links placed below the browser controls lead users to search and other Microsoft products, including Hotmail and MSN Messenger.

The new toolbar also includes a menu that provides access to other MSN sites, including news, entertainment, finances and shopping.

Yahoo and Google, the No. 1 and No. 2 search destinations, introduced similar toolbars with new search functions over the past few months.

The three Internet giants are pitted in a contest to draw users with new search features and in turn sell advertising based on what products those consumers are looking for when they type in search keywords.

New turntable lets DJs "scratch' video discs

The hip-hop music revolution has recently produced a spate of digital CD turntables (from the likes of Denon and Panasonic) that let DJs "scratch" a CD with virtually the same facility they have with a vinyl record.

Now Pioneer is upping the ante with the DVJ-X1, a product that lets DJs scratch music video discs, too, manipulating the DVD visuals the same way they would music.

Yes, the video and audio streams stay in perfect sync, even when they're being reversed and slow/fast pitched. Pioneer expects that dance music labels will see a great opportunity here to make and market music videos to the club crowd. This gizmo hits the streets in April or May, priced between $3,299 and $3,999.

_ Compiled from staff and wire reports