‘GTA’ Sells, Yahoo Doesn’t

Gas prices are setting record highs, homeowners are facing foreclosure, the dollar’s slipping further down a black hole, and the credit industry is collapsing.

These are frustrating times — and perhaps that’s partly why “Grand Theft Auto IV” just set some new records for video game sales. The controversial title took in a half billion dollars in its opening week, with more than half of that haul coming on opening day.

You’ve got to take out your economic frustrations somehow, and what better way than to plunk down 60 bucks for the chance to rampage through a simulated New York City stealing cars, shooting strangers and doing business with all sorts of fascinating criminal entrepreneurs? Hey, it’s cheaper than bail.

Listen to the podcast (9:08 minutes).

Ballmer Takes a Hike

The Microsoft-Yahoo takeover saga ended without much of a punctuation mark. After huffing and puffing and sending in Steve Ballmer with a license to kill, Microsoft decided not to go hostile after all and shuffled dolefully away.

Although Yahoo resisted a Redmond takeover with all of its diminished might, it seemed uncertain it had made the right decision when all was said and done. “I am more than willing to listen,” said CEO Jerry Yang as he watched his company’s stock tank — but Microsoft was finished talking.

Now the software titan is rumored to be checking out Facebook as a possible Internet partner, but no one appears to be getting too excited about it. If Zuckerberg’s been watching the Yahoo proceedings, he’s now got a complete education in how to not make a deal with Microsoft — and then maybe wish you had.

WiMax Redux

Sprint’s ambition to blanket the U.S. with WiMax is finally coming to fruition. It’s teaming up with Clearwire to form a new wireless broadband company valued at US$14.5 billion. The goal of the joint venture is to bring WiMax-based high-speed Internet access to 140 million people across the U.S. by the end of 2010.

Google, Intel and a slew of cable companies — Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks — are investing a total of $3.2 billion in the undertaking. Under the deal, the cable providers will get to bundle Sprint voice and wireless with their services.

Google will get guaranteed open access to a high-speed network for its Android mobile phone operating system and another mobile beachhead for its advertising programs. Intel will work with other hardware and chipmakers to integrate WiMax chipsets into its next-generation of mobile processors.

Sprint will own a 51 percent stake in the new company — which will retain the Clearwire name — while Clearwire will own 27 percent.

3G in NYC

T-Mobile is a late bloomer as far as third-generation networks are concerned, but now it officially has a real-deal 3G network in place — though it’s only available in New York City.

The company plans to roll out the service to more big cities over the course of the year. T-Mobile was the last major U.S. carrier to finally get going on 3G operations, so it has some catching up to do.

Still, 3G adoption is still in the fairly early stages, so there are a lot of customers yet to be had.

Sun’s Rocky Quarter

Sun is under the weather again — the company posted a $34 million loss for its third quarter and announced thousands of job cuts. The loss is a steep drop from the $67 million Sun earned in the same quarter in 2007.

The company has been feverishly implementing cost-saving measures as the U.S. economy continues its downward spiral. It is now pursuing the service provider model, for one thing.

On the bright side, Sun acquired open source MySQL for a billion dollars in February and expanded overseas, reporting net gains in 12 of the 16 regions where it has a presence.

A Jolt of Java

On another high note, Sun kicked off its JavaOne conference by introducing JavaFX, a scripting language and development environment for rich Internet applications.

JavaFX is designed to let developers build applications that run in the browser, on the desktop or on a mobile device. A version also will allow development of applications for a television format — and the technology will be incorporated into Blu-ray discs as well.

In fact, music legend Neil Young is using JavaFX to put together a retrospective of his career for release on Blu-ray.

Fighting the Law

When the FBI came knocking at the Internet Archive’s door with a National Security Letter demanding information on one of its users, the organization didn’t take it lying down.

It couldn’t however, go public. An NSL letter comes with a gag order that says you can’t talk about its existence to anyone but your attorneys — and they can’t tell anyone either.

Yes, this happens in the United States of America.

The Archive fought and won, and it’s now speaking out in an effort to educate others lest they blindly comply.

Too much of a Good Thing

If you’ve got a broadband Internet connection, chances are the agreement between you and your ISP is something like an all-you-can-eat buffet — pay one price each month, and you can sit around consuming as much content as you want until your hard drive busts a gut.

But a lot of ISPs say they’re worried that all those YouTube clips and iTunes movies that you piggy little subscribers are eating up are going to bring their systems to standstill.

Now, Comcast is reportedly considering an Internet access package that will cap use at 250 gigabytes of downloaded material per month. Comcast already monitors users’ download rates and threatens heavy users with cancellation of service if they don’t cut back.

If it does roll out such a plan, its customers may not be too wild about it. For years, they’ve been conditioned to expect unlimited downloads, even though only the most voracious Net users exceed about 40 gigs per month.

Zune and the Copyright Police

Microsoft has freshened up the Zune Marketplace — the media player’s online service for buying music. Now, Zune users will also be able to buy TV shows, including NBC’s lineup, for about two bucks apiece. Movies aren’t yet available.

A new social networking feature allows users to listen to whatever music their friends have recently listened to — meaning all those lonely Zune-using teenagers out there will have yet another opportunity to get their daily dose of conformity. Naw, I’m just kidding — Zune users think different. That’s why they have Zunes.

What’s next? Built-in DRM, perhaps. Rumor has it Microsoft might build a feature into the Zune that will filter any unauthorized content the user tries to load onto it and render it unplayable.

The source of the buzz is J.B. Perrette, an executive with NBC Universal, who told The New York Times why NBC stopped selling its shows on iTunes: A) The network wanted more control over pricing than Apple would let it have, and B) Apple did not want to build technology into iPods that would block pirated or otherwise unauthorized content from playing.

Microsoft, Perrette said, was more open to that idea for the Zune. Microsoft spokesperson Cesar Menendez responded, saying, “We have no plans or commitments to implement any new type of content filtering in the Zune devices as part of our content distribution deal with NBC.” Up to you whether that sounds like a flat-out denial.

Mobile TV Catch-Up

Will you like watching TV shows on your cell phone’s bottlecap-sized screen? Of course you will. You’ll love it. Why? Because wireless carriers say you will, that’s why.

AT&T is the latest mobile provider to launch a TV service. For prices ranging from $13 to $30 a month, users of certain AT&T handsets will be able to squint through as many as 150 programs, including news, sports, music performances and movies.

Other carriers started offering similar mobile TV plans many months ago, though so far, the feature appeals to only a small segment of consumers. That’s OK — you’re gonna love it.

A Truthy Webby

Best known as the greatest living American, Stephen Colbert has now been named the Webby Awards’ Person of the Year. The anchor of the fake news show “The Colbert Report” earned his online rock star status by challenging the “truthiness” of Wikipedia and engaging in relentless Google bombing.

Colbert also boosted his Internet creds during a brief run earlier this year as a candidate in the Democratic Party’s South Carolina presidential primary.

Though he didn’t win a spot on the ballot, he managed to leapfrog several of the real — though bottom-rung — candidates in the polls. His campaign attracted more than 78 members per minute to his “One Million Strong for Stephen T. Colbert” Facebook group during its first week.

Webby Awards are also going to hip-hop musician and songwriter for Artist of the Year, and to Michel Gondry, named Film and Video Person of the Year.

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