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
POST A COMMENT

95 Comments

View All Comments

  • shortylickens - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    Creative would have done better to work with onboard audio instead of fighting it so hard.
    Instead of trying to convince a small portion of the market (gamers and enthusiasts) to buy a $100 add-in product, they should have been putting $20 audio chips into motherboards, and reaching 100% of the market.
    Thats the standard to surviving in business. You either sell a handful of very expensive products to a few customers, or you sell a buttload of cheap products to many customers.
    When the overpriced, low-sale items (Live, Audigy, X-FI) werent keeping them afloat, they should have switched tactics.
    Reply
  • MadBoris - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    They are being put out of audio card business by Microsoft, simple.

    I cannot understand how people can so easily swallow what they are fed.
    Somehow the great variation of OEM onboard sound cards with minimalistic drivers (written in some third world closet) is going to be a benefit to all of us.

    Now you will have 10-30 variations of onboard sound cards in crrent platforms all competing to be the lowest priced $1.25 chips on future mobo's. They will have their own idiosynchrocies just due to the extreme variety and poor minimalistic drivers. Instead of a HW MFR's bearing the major burdens, it will be the API's now, but mainly Microsoft that will directly control the future advances in sound processing. Furthermore, MS pushing their software based sound API's for gaming like XACT is really just a shift to move PC devs to their console market (part of their device in every home goal).

    Sorry, I'm not buying the whole Vista is improving on the auditory benefits of humanity. Creative may not have been the greatest thing since sliced bread in people's minds, but their was possible competition. MS's directsound API blew really. But MS 'really' handling it all now is not an improvement to me. Just another move MS has made in putting their foot in as a door stop and making sure they dominate/control an area, unfortunately they are very slow in even stealing and implementing other peoples ideas, let alone doing anything really well on their own.

    I used to slam people who were MS conspiracy theorists but eventually you have to see what is really going on with their motivations a seeing a few moves ahead. The new wddm driver models and DX API's was another step in MS placing in a door stop with future GPU design decisions being directly controlled by them, just more goals of isolating.

    I would like to see Anandtech take a hard nosed look at MS business strategies, not just at a company being forced out of business, now that could be an article. :)
    Reply
  • BitJunkie - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    They aren't being put out of business by MS. They are being put out of business by an inability to change and innovate because they are still in the mindset that "creative labs IS PC audio". All they had to do is start to develop HD Audio compliant solutions with all their funky hardware DSP effects and they would have been in a very competative position.

    They didn't innovate, so they aren't competative. Worse than that, they knobbled the competition, sat on the technology and stagnated the PC audio market so we as consumers are in a worse position. Thank god for HD Audio - I just hope someone starts making decent HD Audio add-in boards to extend the capabilities under Vista.

    All MS did was fix a fundamentally crap driver architecture and audio stack - what I don't understand is why a company making it's business off of the back of one computing platform was arrogant enough to think that they could survive for long by ignoring that change.
    Reply
  • Zak - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    "inability to change and innovate because they are still in the mindset..." - does this remind anyone of RIAA? LOL...

    Z.
    Reply
  • Reflex - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    I'm guessing you are not a developer. Your post seems to ignore some very basic realities. UAA is not new, it is the OS level implementation of the Azalia/HD-Audio spec, and its a standard that is open to any developer on any platform(including Linux). It is not MS owned. Every single audio chip maker of any consequence signed on willingly with the single exception of Creative Labs. They all agreed that it would reduce development costs, increase platform stability(regardless of platform) and increase audio quality. Once again, the only dissenter was Creative. I understand your concerns, but honestly they are not reflected by anyone credible in the industry.

    "Now you will have 10-30 variations of onboard sound cards in crrent platforms all competing to be the lowest priced $1.25 chips on future mobo's. They will have their own idiosynchrocies just due to the extreme variety and poor minimalistic drivers."

    Just to address this issue specifically, have you plugged a flash drive into a computer recently? How about a digital camera? Mouse? Keyboard? All of these devices use the same concept as UAA, namely a minimal class driver that allows OEM's to add extensions to take advantage of individual features. The end result is that these devices 'just work' for all basic functionality out of the box without a specialized driver required. None of them have the capability to bluescreen the OS, nor do they compromise security via poor coding practices. This is the future of drivers on the Windows platform, and it is a major part of why each successive OS is more stable than the previous version. I would not be suprised to see network drivers head this route soon. And yes, the specs for all of these things are open and generally not controlled by MS(Intel is typically the prime mover actually) and are also implemented on other OS's, including OS X and Linux.

    These advances benefit everyone. Unfortunatly Creative could not see that. All they had to do was focus R&D into making a truly beneficial programmable DSP for audio and they'd have had a real winner, but their unwillingness to do so has made them irrelevant.
    Reply
  • MadBoris - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    Not a sound developer. No developer is expert in all technologies.
    While I admit I lack the expertise to see all the underlying facts of the case.

    My concerns are purely on the surface and no self serving MS articles or videos will illuminate me to the real facts. Just on the surface alone I see issues, but we will see how it will all play out. It will likely affect different segments of the PC differently with some good and bad.

    As to minimal class drivers, the only problem is that they provide minimal functionality out of a given device as i understand it. There is no room for a hardware MFR to expose new functionality unless it is adopted by everyone and as a standard. It removes the beauty of what R&D can do in moving technology forward, a minimal class driver is an unfortunate direction. Overall stability can never be attained, MS themselves consistently prove that, but their are other ways to move in that desired direction rather than a minimalistic approach. Feel free to correct me if I am mistaken, since you appear more versed on the subject of the direction of drivers.
    Reply
  • saratoga - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    quote:

    It removes the beauty of what R&D can do in moving technology forward, a minimal class driver is an unfortunate direction.


    I think you're seriously confused about how the industry is moving forward. DOS is long dead. You're not supposed to be doing things like sound effects in a driver on a modern system. Sound was one of the few areas that got a free pass from MS/Apple to stay in the stone age when OSes were dragged into the modern era. This led the the ridiculous number of problems with sound drivers over the last 10 years.

    Moving this stuff into user mode is absolutely the way forward.

    quote:

    Overall stability can never be attained


    Which is not a justification for using unstable or shoddy methods. You're trying to say that since something cannot be perfect, theres no sense in improving it. Thats wrong. If something is imperfect, improving it is often a sensible course of action. Its also why we don't run Windows 98 anymore.

    quote:

    but their are other ways to move in that desired direction rather than a minimalistic approach


    Well, theres the Windows 2003 approach where the entire audio stack is just turned off rather then risk it taking down the machine. I don't think thats a better solution. Other then that, theres not a whole lot you can do. If you're letting people run enormously complicated code in drivers, you're going to have a lot of problems. Its really that simple.

    And anyway, you keep implying that something important is being lost here. I really don't agree. This is the way forward if we want to have multicore and GPU-coprocessor accelerated sound. These are worth the cost of making the couple percent of the market who have an XFI install the OpenAL comparability layer since it will open the way forward for far more stable and far more advanced positional sound engines in the future.
    Reply
  • BikeDude - Thursday, October 4, 2007 - link

    quote:

    This is the way forward if we want to have multicore and GPU-coprocessor accelerated sound.


    First things first: I wholeheartedly agree on the stability issues. Creative has proven, time and time again that they cannot be trusted to write a driver that doesn't seriously compromise your system's stability. (mind you, nVidia are fast approaching that stage too IMO)

    But I am curious how you so categorically can state that moving the audio driver into user mode aids multicore accelerated sounds?

    I do not know the exact details, but if you look at Mark Russinovich's book "Inside Windows 2000", he explains that the GDI was moved in to the kernel (from user mode) because that was the only way they could see their way of improving multi-core performance. Prior to NT4, graphics performance was actually hurt by using several cores (or CPUs rather). Photoshop used to run slower on a dual-CPU rig.

    But of course, the Windows team are more aware of this situation than I am, so hopefully they have given this subject a lot of thought. Although I suspect/fear that the stability argument has been fairly heavy, because... Creative's drivers plain suck. They are a menace to any computer. From what I have seen, only a handful people are skilled enough to write kernel device drivers and none of them have ever been employed by Creative.

    (FWIW: I distinctly remember the time when NT4 introduced the changes I refer to, as well as all the cries of "OMG! they moved the graphics driver into the kernel! Total mayhem will ensue!" -- completely missing the obvious: The third-party graphics driver from ATI et al, was already running in the kernel, starting with NT 3.1! But GDI wasn't, and without GDI Windows pretty much doesn't function, so it has to be rock solid and has a pretty good track record)

    As for Windows 2003 -- the audio stack is turned off by default. You can easily set Win2003 up as a gaming OS, just like XP. (I've used it that way since before its release) But certainly, by default it runs without any fancy features enabled. With good reason, e.g. nVidia quietly dropped PAE support after 79.11. After version 79.11, stuff stops working when you have 4GB main memory+. (32-bit Windows 2003) I can easily imagine similar issues arising with drivers such as the ones Creative puts out.
    Reply
  • saratoga - Thursday, October 4, 2007 - link

    quote:

    But I am curious how you so categorically can state that moving the audio driver into user mode aids multicore accelerated sounds?


    It lets developers write sound code without writing drivers. Pretty simple really. It also allows for easy development of middleware for doing accelerated sound.

    quote:

    I do not know the exact details, but if you look at Mark Russinovich's book "Inside Windows 2000", he explains that the GDI was moved in to the kernel (from user mode) because that was the only way they could see their way of improving multi-core performance. Prior to NT4, graphics performance was actually hurt by using several cores (or CPUs rather).


    GDI was moved into kernel mode so that the system didn't have to switch processor modes over and over again just to draw simple GUI elements. This has nothing to do with GDI.

    quote:


    Photoshop used to run slower on a dual-CPU rig.



    Photoshop is not a driver. I don't know why you're bringing it up.

    quote:

    As for Windows 2003 -- the audio stack is turned off by default. You can easily set Win2003 up as a gaming OS, just like XP.


    Yes, but then you would incur the same stability issues as other versions of Windows.
    Reply
  • BikeDude - Friday, October 5, 2007 - link

    [quote]
    Photoshop is not a driver. I don't know why you're bringing it up.
    [/quote]

    Because back then (NT 3.51) this was the side-effect of having GDI in user mode. Moving GDI into the kernel was mainly done to increase performance on SMP rigs. (according to Mark's book)

    [quote]Yes, but then you would incur the same stability issues as other versions of Windows.[/quote]

    ...provided you use an audio driver from a not-too-bright OEM. Not all of us still use Creative you know... :P (granted, my CMedia chip triggers a BSOD if I enable EAX2 in "Medieaval Total War 2", the situation is nowhere as bad as it was with the Creative drivers I have used in the past)
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now