No matter what one thinks of Microsoft Corp., the company's reach is so expansive that it nearly always makes news, even when there's little or no media attention at the time.

Some recent, and future, examples:

Last week, the company filed another lawsuit in its efforts to go after e-mail spammers. But this one broke some new ground.

Rather than going after the spammers, Microsoft is targeting one of their most important enablers: companies that "host" the Web sites of sleazy marketers who are hawking various schemes and scams.

Most spam messages contain links to Web pages with content a scammer wants you to see, from herbal diet pitches to sites that look like a legitimate bank or credit card company asking you to give up your password, Social Security number or other piece of valuable information.

Like most Web sites, those pages are assigned Internet addresses and housed on computers provided by hosting companies. Legitimate hosting firms are quick to pull down sites traced to spammers.

But a group of companies, typically called bulletproof hosts, has emerged largely to serve the spam community. Many of these use computers overseas and offer their clients rotating Internet addresses, so that when a spammer's e-mail address is blocked or blacklisted by Internet traffic cops, new ones are assigned that keep the spammer up and running.

Microsoft sued, which the software giant claims is among such firms that "actively recruit spammers to use their services by trolling Internet forums frequented by spammers," according to the lawsuit.

The site, which was operational yesterday, advertises that its servers are based in China "to ensure no problems arise from complaints generated by email you send."

Levon Gillespie of California, who describes himself as a partner in the company, denied in an interview via instant message that his company supports spammers.

"I cater my services to professional bulk e-mail marketers," he said. "If we find out such e-mail marketing was done illegally we make every effort to warn users. Then if they do it again they get kicked off our network."

He said an advertisement on his Web site linking to information on "World Wide Spam" should not be taken seriously, calling it freedom of speech and not an expression of his site's policies.

For spammers, bulletproof hosting and secure Internet connections are as necessary as oxygen. It will be interesting to see if other Internet providers or prosecutors follow suit in attacking the air supply.

Speaking of spam, sectors of the Internet world are still buzzing over the release of a Microsoft patent application that appears to claim rights to the underlying method being used or proposed by companies to better determine whether e-mail is coming from a trusted source.

As spam has overwhelmed e-mail traffic, industry has been hoping for widespread adoption of a system to certify "good" e-mail and block everything else, rather than trying to filter out spam.

Most of these system involve, at their core, the ability of a computer to look at an e-mail address and check it against databases of addresses authorized to send mail.

Microsoft worked with other companies and Internet standards-setters to come up with a unified approach.

Along the way, Microsoft sought to allay fears that it would try to co-opt the process by promising to share whatever technologies it developed for the greater good.

In its recently released patent application, Microsoft seeks rights for "the act of querying a name server for a list of network addresses authorized to send electronic messages for the sending domain."

Microsoft argues that is merely an application and that it is offering to license various authentication technologies at virtually no cost.

But Microsoft's aggressive campaign to amass patents in all areas and its licensing regime that excludes its greatest enemy, the Linux open-source operating system, created enough uncertainty that hopes for a unified approach any time soon were shattered. Yesterday, the working group of Internet engineers seeking a quick solution disbanded, although it did not blame Microsoft directly.

From Microsoft's standpoint, though, none of this will be as important as its own court date late next week in Europe.

At hearings scheduled before the European Union's Court of First Instance in Luxembourg, the company will try to postpone sanctions ordered by antitrust regulators.

Microsoft is appealing the orders, which among other things would force it to make a version of its Windows operating system for European customers that does not include its media-playing programs.

Next week's hearings are simply to determine whether the sanctions should be set aside pending the appeal, which could take years.

But in practical terms, much is at stake.

If the company wins the postponement, its critics say, it will have effectively won because its media player will have time to become the overwhelmingly dominant digital media application by virtue of being bundled with Windows.

By the time the appeal runs its course, in this view, the marketplace will have moved on and made the sanctions irrelevant because little competition would be left.

The E.U. has also accused the company of withholding critical technical information needed by competitors so that their network server systems can operate with computers using Windows.

Microsoft argues that the sanctions are draconian, amounting to regulation of how it designs its products that will affect other companies that write programs for Windows.

At the very least, the company argues, it should have the right to exhaust its appeals before it is forced to change parts of its business.

Jonathan Krim can be reached at