Business and technology are forever linked together in one inseparable mass. Technology drives business: it drives new products, it drives improvements in efficiency, it drives companies out of business. Business drives technology: it drives what gets researched, it drives what gets invented, it drives the pace of technological progress. Each drives the other, the feedback from each further changing how one or the other progresses.

One only needs to look as far as the CPU industry to get an idea of just how this works. Intel has a strong business that keeps the company floating when one or more aspects of their technology portfolio are faltering, and having such wealth buys them technology advantages such as smaller processes sooner. Meanwhile AMD has a strong technology portfolio that keeps the company going even when business is bad, putting the company years ahead of Intel in in areas like the server market. Here the dynamic duo of HyperTransport and the Integrated Memory Controller have kept the company ahead of the Core2's onslaught over the past year (and will continue at least until Nehalem arrives).

It's because of the intertwined nature of business and technology that we sometimes have trouble conveying the whole situation when trying to talk about technology; some things can't make sense without an understanding of the business situation too. In recognition of that we are starting a new series "The Business of Technology," looking at companies and their technology from the side of business instead of the side of technology. From this perspective we can comment on things when it's not possible to do so from the technology side, and come to a better understanding on how for the companies we cover their business and technology situations are both driving their future.

Bear in mind that this is new ground for us, and how we go about things in the future will no doubt change with the times. We'd like to hear back from you, our readers, on how informative you find this approach, and how we can better deliver information from it. We'd like to bring everything to you in a well-rounded when possible.

The brand that started it all

With that out of the way, we're starting this series with Creative Technology Ltd, better known as Creative Labs. Creative has a long and rich history, the culmination of which was the creation of the SoundBlaster line of sound cards and the associated audio standard, which brought the full spectrum of synthesized and recorded audio to the PC. Although they have since expanded in to many other markets, Creative has and continues to be primarily a sound company, and was the king of sound cards... until recently.

Creative by The Numbers
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  • Freddo - Thursday, October 4, 2007 - link

    Sometimes I wonder how PC audio would be like if Creative actually made their stuff themselves instead of ripping it out of their dead competitors. We could have cheap, high quality MIDI (E-MU), compatibility with ISA cards (Ensoniq), superior 3D sound (Aureal), and Dolby Digital encoding in hardware (Sensaura), but nooo, Creative had to ruin the fun for everyone, and keep their "monopoly", which now bitten them in the back.

    I really liked their Sound Blaster cards back in the DOS days, but EAX never impressed me and I've been a very satisfied customer of Terratec cards now for almost a decade.

    There are a fair amount of people who will buy the latest Sound Blaster cards just for EAX or simply because it's "the soundcard to have". I'm a member of a few swedish hardware forums, and if a person there ask for soundcard recommendations, everyone will come and yell "Sound Blaster!".

    I'm quite grateful for what MS has done, too, with their audio changes. And with Service Pack 1 for Vista they are adding the XAudio2 API which will probably give excellent 3D audio (Xbox 360 uses the XAudio1 API). Sure, it will use the CPU for the audio processing, but that's hardly any issue when dual-cores are the norm, and soon quad-core will be. Which removes the need for EAX, even for the EAX enthusiasts. Unfortunately, Creative pulled a patent stunt on ID software and forced them to add EAX for Doom3, so I guess they might continue to do so.
  • DDG - Thursday, October 4, 2007 - link

    I'd rather see more competition now that ASUS has released their Xonar card. Discrete auido is still a vital component for an enjoyable multimedia experience on the PC and if it dies then you'd best believe that discrete video will be next.
  • lsman - Thursday, October 4, 2007 - link

    Thanks for different angles on Technology.
    I will like to view a follow up of Sound card "creative alternative" for gamers....if you can.
    I currently own X-fi gamer and Audigy 2 zs, a creative mp3 player (a Zen before)
    Although Audigy 2 has some problem in gaming (could be the game developer or so), its been well in X-fi so far.
  • jay401 - Thursday, October 4, 2007 - link

    It says a lot that many gamers were willing to go with (comparatively) unknown brands for their soundcards when given the opportunity. It tells you just how big a pile of crap Creative's products were and just how little they listened to their customers to address and improve the problem areas.

    Creative insisted on releasing crap for years, and still often have crap for drivers and software control panels. If they hadn't been so bull-headed and actually listened to the consumer and addressed those issues, one can only guess that they would have done better and competition that cropped up like Turtle Beach, the Diamond Monster Sound MX300, and Auzentech wouldn't have gained the footholds they did because people would have actually been satisfied with their existing Creative products enough to not bother trying another brand. Creative was so bad for a while it actually encouraged other companies to get into the audio peripheral arena who likely would not have otherwise (e.g. Diamond).

  • jay401 - Thursday, October 4, 2007 - link

    By the way, people rating posts down are folks who've never heard of the SoundBlaster16, AWE32, AWE64, etc. Newbs who don't really know Creative's history, just their X-Fi series that is actually decent (aside from a few games where they cause crashes or lockups... classic Creative driver bugs).
    I do wish Creative well but if they don't shape up, this is really just what they deserve for ignoring customer feedback over the years.
  • AggressorPrime - Thursday, October 4, 2007 - link

    I just started using Creative products when their X-Fi came out. Just when they start having a quality product, they must die? The X-Fi provides numerous advantageous over onboard sound. Battlefield 2142 sounds so much better with full EAX 5.0. Of course, I know only gamers along with music enthusiasts will support X-Fi, since people might see it as a pain to hand over $100 for a quality audio experience. All Creative needs to do is then force people to use their product. What I mean by this is do what they are doing with onboard audio and MSI with everybody: every motherboard, whether desktop or notebook, oem or retail, DIY or Dell should have an X-Fi. Even better is if they can make a deal with nVidia and put X-Fi's on their video cards in order to compete with AMD's audio chip on their video cards. Then their HDMI would be better than AMD's considering the audio quality would be so ahead. And don't put on a cut down version on the motherboard or the video card. Put on the full fledge version and charge the mobo manufacturer / video card manufacturer $20 for the chip and X-RAM. Sure, you lose per product sale (considering you could've made $100), but you gain because everything uses your product. Moreover, you still make a profit $20/chip. If I saw an X-Fi Elite chip on a notebook, I know I would heavily consider getting it (since all Creative does for notebooks now is waste an ExpressCard bay for XtremeAudio, but since I got it I still think it's worth it for the serious gamer/movie/sound lover, even in Vista).
  • deptmaster - Thursday, October 4, 2007 - link

    With the advent of HDMI Creative should be licensing their audio chips to video card manufacturers or if possible get into the video card market themselves.
  • jmurbank - Thursday, October 4, 2007 - link

    The sound card business is slow and coming to a stop because nobody cares for quality sound. I rather have sound quality, but not from Creative Labs because what things happened in the past. I think my first sound card is created by Voyetra. I bought a Creative Labs Soundblaster LIVE! in 2000 thinking it was the best, but it was not. The sound quality of the card after I changed it to a Turtle Beach Santa Cruz was worst. The Santa Cruz had better sound quality and it did not hurt the bus that the LIVE card likes to do. My next sound card is Audiotrak Prodigy 7.1 which has equal sound quality compared to the Lynx Studio Technology LynxTWO.

    The E-Mu is a fantastic DSP chip, but Creative Labs only went for numbers instead of sound quality. If a better company used the E-Mu chip, it will be a lot better than what Creative Labs did to it.

    An discrete sound card and graphics is necessary to include special features that a motherboard does not have. These discrete boards provides extreme performance that motherboard manufactures skim or cut corners to sell their boards at low prices. Discrete boards will always be in when people want very, very high quality graphics with the highest frame rates and the very best sound that a motherboard can not do.

    From what I learn over the years from the sound industry. A company have to have a distinct audio tone, so that it can survive. The tone that Creative Labs is playing is more machine than an actual tone. A machine tone is not very attractive. There is a sweet, dynamic, warm, etc tones that different people like. These tones attract people to certain music artist and audio manufactures.
  • grantschoep - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    Sorry bought that half post, fingers hitting keys a too fast rate.

    I've always hated that I had a Soundblaster Live!, its decent, but it was just the Soundblaster name. Any one who gamed in DOS, in the early/middle 90s, that had the Gravis Ultrasound sound card, knows what I am talking about. It totally blew away the sound quality/features of anything else. Playing Doom, was awesome. 32 stereo voices... my favorite quote "SBOS installed"(which when the Soundblaster emulator started up, the driver said this on boot.

    Sure there was a few kinks to work on in the drivers, but then this was DOS, what product did have some kinks. They were good about updating software. I remember dialing via modem in long distance(to Canada from the US) to update drivers.

    Anyways, competition is always good. Hey, Gravis really kicked Soundblaster's butt when it came to features. The Ultrasounds 32 stereo voices vs Soundblaster 4 voice mono, was the comparison at at time.

    I think Creative should really focus on a very good power effiecent, cool processor for sound. I really don't think that many people run 7.1 audio from their computer(our home theater systems actually, since few movies even support that)

    Give me a good, fast, power efficient, 2.0 stereo sound processor. Get the sound as clean as possible(low THD). I'll buy. My $2500 dollars of B&W Speakers is attached to my home theater. My 30 dollar 2 speaker/sub is attached to my computer.

  • Schugy - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    Who needs Creative if there's no open ALSA driver for their sound cards? Who needs sound cards with disabled digital connectors because everybody is supposed to be a pirate? Who needs players with MS DRM instead of gapless ogg vorbis support? Who buys an X-Fi for PCI if there are rumors about a PCIe version of it? Ever heard of competitors products like Noxon or Soundbridge or maybe Evoke? We all like digital radio like DAB, DMB or internetstreams but who still buys FM radios? Well, digital users might become victims of encryption but I would boycott digital radio in that case :-)

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