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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  • BitJunkie - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    Great article, and good summary. Could list at least 10 reasons to be annoyed with Creative but the most illustrative is that:

    You can't plug an AC'97 based front connector in to their X-Fi add-in boards. So EVEN IF someone wanted to use one of their boards rather than the excellent Realtek integrated solutions you automatically gimp the functionality of your chassis unless you buy their intel based front panel and clog up a 3" drive bay. They are using standards to force people to buy their own products. I paid for an add-in board, discovered this and threw the thing away. That's the last cent they get from me.

    RIP Creative.
  • The Jedi - Saturday, October 6, 2007 - link

    It turns out Intel is the one who changed up the front audio panel header from the AC'97 standard to the HD Audio standard. Creative supports the newer HD Audio front ports, but most PC cases have the older AC'97 ports. I've run into this myself and it looks like I only get headphones in the front. It looks like Auzentech actually supports the AC'97 standard ports on their cards FWIW.
  • BitJunkie - Sunday, October 7, 2007 - link

    That's my point. Creative resist the HD Audio standard when it comes to the implementation of their add-in cards, but rather cynically use it for their front panel connector. So for the majority of people who have an AC'97 front panels built in to their chassis, they are forced to buy the Creative front panel to have that front panel functionality.

    Guess what Creative do? they bundle the front panel with their more expensive add-in cards, forcing you to pay more than you want just to get some basic functionality you should have anyway. Idiots.
  • DaveLessnau - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    I'd bump your rating up one, but it's already maxed out. This is EXACTLY why Creative's going bankrupt and everyone is glad its happening. Excellent post.
  • bigpow - Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - link

    I second that.
    It was all good and fun, while it lasted.

    But it's time to move on and the end of an era is here.

    IT industry don't have mercy for those who are slow or lame.
    Only the fastest/most flexible ones can survive.

    Compare that to the auto industry (if that's the case, the big 3 would be dead a long time ago)
  • n7 - Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - link

    Nice summary.

    Good article too, thanx.
  • trelin - Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - link

    I've always kept a spot of sincere hatred for Creative for the way they sued Aureal into declaring bankruptcy, then purchasing the Aureal IP afterwards.

    Aureal eventually won the lawsuit, but legal defense costs tied up funding for the AU8830. By the time it was done they simply did not have the funds to bulk produce the virtually completed chip/reference-card design and had to scrap the project.

    I don't begrudge Creative for making an inferior product, but for their deplorable tactics I do hope they die and are forced sell their IP for a fraction of their development costs.
  • takumsawsherman - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    Yes, this was total manipulation of the legal system by Creative for illicit destruction of a competitor. Having always used Sound Blaster cards for add-in situations, I was skeptical when my distributor sales guy told me to try some Aureal Vortex 2 SuperQuads. But, seeing as the Creative equivalent was $100 at the time, and the Superquads were $50 retail, I figured I would give them a shot.

    The sound quality was amazing, and while the drivers weren't perfect, this was the beginning of Creatives "horrible overstuffed driver" stage. $50 got the machine amazing 3D sound with A3D which Creative tried to "me too" with EAX. Except that A3D was really great, and EAX sounded like garbage. I was a convert, and was able to cheaply add great sound to the systems I was building.

    Unfortunately, instead of rising to the challenge, Creative used it's tried and true "sue them into submission" strategy. Years later, I come across many SB cards with horrible crackling noises, pain in the butt driver installs, and my brain has me convinced that those old SuperQuads still sound better. Aureal was a fantastic company with fantastic technology, and Creative's big bankroll was the only thing that enabled them to drain Aureal's.

    So, I totally agree with your last sentence, except I will add that I hope the Aureal people raise money to buy the IP and then make the moves that will revitalize the market.
  • sc3252 - Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - link

    "Creative's problems are further compounded by Microsoft at #4, who is more than happy to lose money on the media player market for now" Golden! Microsoft seems to love losing money, as long as they have a chance next round.
  • ricleo2 - Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - link

    Another great article here on Anandtech. This is one of the few articles here I fully understand. When I company in this shape starts spending more on R and D, look for a rebound. Otherwise look for bankruptcy or a buyout.

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