Unwanted commercial email, better known as spam, can be contained within two years but will first reach unprecedented proportions, according to Microsoft chief spam fighter.

"Spam has reached epic proportions and we are in a crisis situation," said Ryan Hamlin, general manager of Microsoft's anti-spam technology and strategy group, speaking at Microsoft's Silicon Valley campus in Mountain View, California.

"For a lot of people out there the situation has become so bad that they are willing to give up email if the spam situation does not improve," he said. According to Hamlin, almost half of all email today is unsolicited, and he predicts that as much as 65 percent of total email next year could be spam.

"It won't surprise me if we spend close to $18bn (£10bn) next year to deal with the problem," he said. This cost includes the price of filtering software and storage hardware. Loss of productivity is not factored, Hamlin added.

Microsoft, together with industry partners and even traditional rivals such as AOL, is working to can spam. The topic has also drawn the interest of the US Federal Trade Commission and US lawmakers, who appear ready to pass anti-spam legislation this year.

According to Hamlin, these efforts should halt the growth in unsolicited and within 18 months could even reduce it. Within two years, spam could be contained and reduced to the level of a mere nuisance, he predicted. These emails will become like computer viruses: something that is out there but which a user is not often hit by, Hamlin said.

We at PC Advisor doubt Hamlin's optimism. US and EU legislation will undoubtedly help to combat the level of spam generated from our countries, but not from the rest of the world. With many junk emails being sent from South East Asia, South America and other locations outside the scope of these laws, it is unlikely such measures will do a great deal to stop the growing tide of spam.