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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  • Sunrise089 - Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - link

    I'm no expert, but it seems like there are three things they could do to turn thing around:

    1) Market their MP3 players better. I know several people who aren't in the "anything but apple" crowd, but who insist everything other than styling and interface is better in the Creative MP3 players. I'm sure more than 4% of the market would choose better audio quality if they could get it, so that's what Creative needs to be advertising.

    2) Make the X-fi's cheaper, and market them to gamers. The serious music crowd already has an X-fi if they want one. Gamers however like extra FPS, and I've seen plenty of benches showing decent gains for add-on audio. At the very least gamers should buy an X-fi before a RAID0 setup.

    3) Move into the on-board market. Creative still has a better association with quality than Realtec. So I'd have to think there would be some potential for moing the low-end of their soundcard market from discreet to integrated options.
  • heated snail - Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - link

    Back in 1999-2000, two Soundblaster Live audio boards completely failed to work with my via-based AMD platform running first Windows 98, then ME, then 2000. Sound was present but there were regular blue-screens caused by the audio driver. Creative first denied any problem, then blamed VIA's PCI latency issues. Those issues were true, but the daily crash was still in Creative's drivers. Further customer service (or even official response to the issue on their joke of a support website) was nonexistent.

    Since that time I have eagerly hoped for other consumers to see through Creative's blend of extremely heavy advertising budget and extremely lightweight customer service and support. Their formula worked for years, and now maybe it's almost finished. Creative, rest in pieces.
  • DigitalFreak - Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - link

    Good riddance to bad rubbish. If it wasn't for almost exclusive support of EAX in games, their soundcard division would have died a long time ago. Now all we need is a positional sound open standard (OpenAL is still a Creative controlled standard).

    As much as I dislike Vista, I have to give props to Microsoft for single handedly killing EAX. :0)
  • cambit69 - Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - link

    in some ways, Creative Labs reminds us of Eastman Kodak company. They missed the boat on digital cameras because they refused to acknowledge that digital would replace film (film was what the company was knwon to have pioneered). THe same way how Creative Labs just sat on their tried and true Sound Blaster brand and refused to put R&D into newer technologies and branch out.

    creative put 7% of their total revenue into R&D, that doesnt sound a lot to me for a business that relies on technology and it makes me wonder where the other 93% of their revenue is going.
  • The Boston Dangler - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    your analogy would better fit Polaroid. Eastman Kodak is alive and very well, Polaroid would be dead if it weren't for a couple industrial things going on.
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    Kodak is alive, very well is a different story. Almost all of their products compete at the low end of the point&shoot market, where the competition is fierce and margins small. It is analogous to the segment of the MP3 player market Creative competes in. Kodak's last adventure with a dSLR did not go well, and if they were to re-enter that market it would likely need to be as a partner to someone, as they don't have their own line of lenses and other accessories, which are where the real money is in the dSLR world.
  • Duwelon - Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - link

    I haven't read much on UAA, why does the article say the sound card is going away and won't be coming back?

    What is UAA that it makes hardware based positional audio obsolete?
  • saratoga - Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - link

    I'm no expert on it (never did any Windows driver development), but its basically a standard for audio cards that moves most of the processing into standard Windows components that run in user mode.

    The upside of this is that sound cards will be able to work correctly and provide a high degree of functionality (5.1, etc) with no extra drivers at all (think how USB flash drives work without a driver disk). Additionally, since they run in user mode, bad drivers will no longer be able to BSOD Windows, at worst the app would crash to the desktop. Presumably, the ultimate goal is for MS to move audio processing over to more standard multicore and onboard accelerators (built in GPUs/PPUs/etc) rather then expensive and less functional proprietary PCI devices.

    This really screws over Creative of course, since effectively MS is putting their sound card business out to pasture. I can't say I blame them though. After all the stuff Creative's pulled, MS clearly wants to get them as far from their OS as possible.
  • leexgx - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link


    is UAA that it makes hardware based positional audio obsolete

    it can still be done in hardware but its more standardised

    there drivers still suck and thay Refuse to support OEM sound cards that CAN ONLY be made by creative (it be like nvidia saying we not going to support an BFG NVida video card coes it has an badge on it that says BFG)
  • EarthsDM - Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - link enough. The soon they are gone, the better. They started a real revolution, and then drove their popularity into the ground.

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