Microsoft researching e-mail filtering, rating software

Microsoft Corp. researchers are developing e-mail software that learns what messages are important to users and which aren't, ranking them by urgency, Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates said to technologists at the Computer-Human Interaction Conference in Seattle on Tuesday.

The software will learn user's preferences and priorities over time, Microsoft said. It will do this in part by examining which e-mails users read first, and which people users communicate with most often, performing a statistical analysis, said a spokeswoman from Microsoft's public relations firm.

Outlook Mobile Manager includes a test version of the e-mail ranking software as part of the optional "Priorities / Notification" add-on, the company said. Future versions of Microsoft Office and the Windows XP operating system will include e-mail ranking functions, Microsoft added.

Eventually, the ranking software will incorporate an "intelligent agent" which can interrupt user activities for really important messages, and which will be capable of judging the right time and place to do so.

Microsoft President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer first described the Priorities software last month at the ACM1: Beyond Cyberspace technology conference in San Jose, California. "One of the interesting features about having a priority mail filter is that its becomes a sort of junk mail filter too," Eric Horvitz, an engineer with Microsoft Research Labs who joined Ballmer on stage, said at the time.

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