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Net loo blues for flip-flop Microsoft

Los Angeles, May 14 (Reuters): Is it a Web-surfing portable toilet or a public relations nightmare — or both'

Microsoft Corp. reversed its position for the second time in 24 hours yesterday over whether or not it had ever planned to launch a portable toilet with a built-in Internet terminal in Britain this summer.

On Monday, the world’s largest software maker had said the “iLoo”, which was described in minute detail in an April 30 press release by its British subsidiary, was a hoax and apologised for any “confusion or offense”.

But yesterday, Microsoft switched its story and said the iLoo had been a legitimate project by its British MSN Internet service that was terminated after the initial announcement prompted controversy, ridicule and disgust.

“Corporate headquarters in Redmond, Washington, looked at it and decided maybe this wasn’t a good idea,” said Lisa Gurry, MSN group product manager.

Gurry said the iLoo had been intended as part of a public relations campaign to promote the company’s money-losing MSN service in unexpected places. The same campaign had previously featured Web access on London park benches and beach chairs in France.

Newspapers and news services, including Reuters, the Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal, reported on Microsoft’s initial iLoo announcement.

Public response was mixed. Letters published in one of Microsoft’s hometown newspapers, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, questioned the hygiene of sharing a keyboard in a public toilet and whether the iLoo was real.

“Knowing Microsoft, though, it probably won’t be perfected until Version 2.0,” the newspaper commented.

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