Hot on the Web
Lost in Cyberspace
Online San Diego
Feature Articles
Book Reviews and Reading Diary
Music Reviews
Favorite quotates
Contact Me

Hot on the Web

Other spam solutions

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on July 11, 2003
(Issue 2128, The Bad Interne)

In response to the recent column on using a form-based contact system to keep spammers away from my new e-mail address, quite a few readers wrote in with their own solutions.

Sol Schumer had perhaps the easiest and, for end users, most transparent plan: When posting e-mail links on your web page, use the HTML numeric character reference in place of the actual character in your page's source code.

It's not really confusing – in HTML, every alphanumeric and special character can be represented either by itself or by a code. A lower-case "m," for instance, can also be "m". (There are plenty of HTML numeric character charts – just enter "HTML character chart" in Google and you'll have a wide choice.)

Now, normally you wouldn't want to do something like that – unless you're using a foreign character not available on your keyboard: A Spanish n with a tilde, for instance (ñ).

But spammers use automated software that scans the source code of Web pages for e-mail addresses – If that address is hyperlinked, it will appear in the source code as ""

By substituting HTML numeric character references in place of a few letters and/or characters, though, you can confuse the bot. So my now-defunct e-mail address of might appear in the source code as mailto&

The true beauty of this is that the address will appear as your browser, as the browser translates the HTML numeric reference into the character. And you can even disguise the hyperlink this way, and the browser will translate that properly as well.

I suppose it's only a matter of time until the bots catch on and learn to translate as well, but in the short term, for those looking to protect themselves from spam while still staying accessible via their web pages, it's a pretty good fix.

No meat to this story

In mid-June, the major media outlets were blaring the news that Microsoft was dropping further development of Internet Explorer for the Mac – touting the announcement as yet another Sign of Doom for Apple.

Of course, the media's been predicting Apple's demise for almost 20 years now – a sort of non-self-fulfilling prophecy.

Reading Microsoft's own announcement, though, shows that even Microsoft isn't bailing on the Mac. A new version of Office for the Mac is already in the works, and Microsoft is continuing development of its Windows Media Player for the Mac, as well as the MSN Messenger client for the Mac.

The IE decision came down to the fact that IE is given away for free; with Apple now developing its own browser, Safari, Microsoft has no real reason for investing in IE for the Mac. (Although the Windows Media Player and MSN Messenger are also given away for free – so what gives? What gives is that Microsoft is still trying to dominate the instant messenger and online music arenas the way it dominates the rest of the market – and Mac users are among the most active users of the Internet, especially for multimedia.)

Besides, Apple is stronger, better poised for the future now than at any time in history.

It's user base is larger than it's ever been (a more telling statistic than the misleading market share), more new software is coming out, and Apple is even breaking into the server market with its new Unix-based OSX.

Even if Microsoft did drop Office, someone else would step into the void with an application that could open and save to Office files.

Which Microsoft undoubtedly knows; it's already losing market share on the PC side to less-expensive alternatives like WordPerfect, StarOffice and others that offer Microsoft compatibility at a fraction of the cost of Office. Abandoning Office for the Mac doesn't make sense; abandoning IE does.

The larger point is this: Microsoft needs Apple to thrive and survive – the existence of the Mac gives Microsoft Exhibit A (however tenuous) that it can't be engaging in illegal anti-competitive practices to dominate the market, or how would Apple survive?

Besides, we're at a point of the Internet's development that a browser is pretty much a browser. Get the basic plug-in support for your browser (Flash, QuickTime), adhere to standard HTML calls, and you're in business. There's not that much difference between IE and Netscape and Opera and Mozilla and, now, Safari.