May 12, 2003 3:55 PM PDT

iLoo makes Microsoft gag

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Microsoft claims that the iLoo, an outhouse with a built-in terminal for Web browsing, was an April Fools' Day gag--even though it was announced May 2.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant said on Monday that news that MSN UK was creating the iLoo, a portable lavatory that was supposedly going to be tested at music festivals in Great Britain this summer, was an elaborate ruse. "I can confirm it was an April Fools' joke," said Nouri Bernard Hasan, a Microsoft spokesman in the United States, told CNET News.com on Monday.

The iLoo captured the imagination of readers and headline writers all over the world when it first emerged nearly two weeks ago. MSN UK said at the time that the device, which was to come fitted with a Wi-Fi connection and a flat-panel display for seat-level reading, was an attempt to show off the U.K. Web portal's services in a different manner.

"It's a bit of fun, and it allows younger age groups access to our key services, like Hotmail and MSN Messenger, in a fun and interactive way," Matthew Whittingham, a MSN UK spokesman, said on May 2.

Other than the invention itself, the apparent launch of the iLoo didn't bear any indications of being a joke. For example, public relations representatives for Microsoft commented on the product. A press release, which included comments from MSN executives, was posted May 2 to the Microsoft UK Web site, where it remained available for a week.

Searches on the MSN UK sites Monday indicate that the iLoo press release has been removed since then, although cached versions of the release could still be obtained through a Google search. No company disclaimer to the joke has been published.

"I've never known Microsoft to do that (to put out a fake press release)," said Matthew Rosoff, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft. MSN UK did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In addition, U.K. natives now living in the United States could not recall any British tradition of pulling April Fools' stunts a month or so late.

Hasan said that MSN UK, however, has engaged in pranks before. He noted that the group once announced that it had wired up a park bench for Internet access. He then corrected himself, stating that the bench, in fact, was a real demonstration.

 

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