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Dumb and dumber moments in tech

By Adam Horowitz, Mark Athitakis, Mark Lasswell, and Owen Thomas
Business 2.0

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(Business 2.0) -- The year is just getting started, and that can mean only one thing: It's time to reflect on the most shameful, dishonest, and just plain stupid tech moments of 2003.

Microsoft: In the crapper?

Part 1 The PC in the WC. On April 30, Microsoft U.K. issues a press release touting a new product called the iLoo, an Internet-enabled toilet equipped with a Wi-Fi broadband connection, a plasma flat screen, a waterproof keyboard, and sponsored toilet paper festooned with Web addresses. According to the release, the iLoo will "allow instant logging on."

Part 2 Johnny on the spot. Twelve days later, after much snickering in morning newspapers and on late-night talk shows, Microsoft flacks back in Redmond come up with a clever strategy for damage control. The iLoo, says spokeswoman Kathy Gill, was merely an "April Fool-like joke."

Part 3 Something doesn't smell right. The next day, realizing that nobody's buying the April-Fool's-joke-29-days-after-April-Fool's-Day explanation, Microsoft calls back reporters and admits that it had told an iLulu: The project was indeed real but has subsequently been killed. "We jumped the gun basically yesterday in confirming that it was a hoax," says MSN group product manager Lisa Gurry. "In fact, it was not."

Think they'll buy the April Fool's joke thing again?

Michael Hanscom, a temp worker at Microsoft's in-house print shop, is fired after posting to his blog a photo that showed workers at the facility taking delivery of several Apple G5 computers. His supervisor insists that Hanscom was fired not for showing the company relying on the product of its chief rival, but for revealing the location of one of its shipping and receiving departments.

We hear the computer science department sucks anyway

In February, Cornell University sends out an e-mail to incoming freshmen that begins, "Greetings from Cornell, your future alma mater!" The message is sent to all 1,700 students who applied for early decision, including the 550 who've been rejected.

Saddam's Viagra-spam terror!

In February, Computerworld publishes an article in which "Abu Mujahid," a Pakistani operative linked to al Qaeda, claims responsibility for releasing the Slammer virus. The magazine pulls the story three hours after it's posted online. "Mujahid" is revealed to be Brian McWilliams, a freelance writer who created a fake Web site to lure gullible journalists.

Register with

In October, three and a half years after buying Network Solutions for $21 billion, VeriSign sells its dotcom-registration business for $100 million.

I wanted to seem petty and vindictive?

"There is no business justification. That's not why I did it." founder Michael Robertson, whose rhymes-with-Windows company is in the midst of a legal dispute with Microsoft, on the revelation that he's the formerly anonymous donor behind a $200,000 contest to hack Microsoft's Xbox.

He's got to pass the time somehow

In March, Apple Computer appoints former vice president Al Gore to its board of directors. Apple CEO Steve Jobs reassuringly notes that Gore, who famously dumped his Mac for a PC in 2000, now uses a Mac again. In November, Falcon Waterfree Technologies announces that Gore has joined its advisory board. No word on whether Gore has started using Falcon's product, a waterless urinal.

Al Gore's not interested

Despite claims that it "allows people to go farther and move more quickly anywhere they currently walk," Segway finds few buyers for the $4,000 Human Transporter scooter in its first year on sale after it's banned for use on sidewalks by local governments from San Francisco to Key West. In June, its "self-balancing" claims are also put to the test when photos of George W. Bush "riding" a Segway begin circulating on the Internet.

A masked guy said the same thing when the cops found him in front of the bank vault

"We looked at a document in the public domain. It's not some protected preserve with lots of protected content." Larry Lunetta, an executive at security startup ArcSight, claiming that his firm did nothing wrong after an employee was caught red-handed poking around in password-protected files on a competitor's Web site.

Influence software sales

"Terrorists do things designed to intimidate people, and we see a lot of that going on all the time -- people trying to attack us or people that we're associated with." SCO Group CEO Darl McBride, complaining about the backlash from hundreds of thousands of Linux users after the former Linux software vendor sued IBM, a major Linux proponent, for allegedly violating its intellectual-property rights.

Designing fonts in Redmond

"Microsoft has learned of a mistake in the Bookshelf Symbol 7 font ... we failed to identify, prior to the release, the presence of two swastikas within the font. We apologize for this and for any offense caused." From a statement released in December by Microsoft senior vice president Steven Sinofsky.

Stump recording-industry executives

After SunnComm Technologies rolls out new CD copy-protection software in September, a Princeton student figures out how to disable it. The devious hack: holding down the "Shift" key.

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