For a brief, shining moment, Bill Gates was buying hundreds of people in California and Oregon a new TV. Or VCR. Or breadmaker.
Customers lined up outside Best Buy stores and other retailers in the two states for hours Thursday to take advantage of a poorly worded contract that allowed them to get a $400 rebate on any purchase for signing up to receive Microsoft's MSN Internet service.
What Microsoft learned, to its dismay, was that the contract also allowed customers in California and Oregon to cancel the Internet service whenever they liked, and keep the rebate.
"It doesn't feel immoral," said Jenny Ives, 20, a California college student who used her rebate to buy a breadmaker and a combination television-videocassette recorder.
Microsoft suspended the offer in the two states Friday morning and was reviewing ways to close the loophole.
In most states, all or part of the rebate has to be returned if a consumer cancels service in less than three years. But California and Oregon laws appears to ban such a provision, Microsoft said.
"This is just a shame because [it] offered consumers an inexpensive way to get wired to the Internet," company spokesman Tom Pilla said.
Microsoft plans to allow people who canceled service to keep their rebates.
At a Best Buy store in West Los Angeles, hundreds of people expecting the rebates stood in line Thursday for more than three hours with TVs, computers, DVD players and other electronic gear.
"There wasn't a DVD player left. There were very few TVs left," said Becky McConnell, 23, of Los Angeles. "The shelves were really bare."