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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  • Christobevii3 - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    Sensaura was always plauged by being lower end. The companies that supported them would throw out trash $20 cards so that basically was their problem.
  • Zak - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    Corporate bullying, bloated software and crappy drivers, overpriced hardware, destroying superior Aureal3D technology, they got themselves into bad position. I've been using on-board sound for years via SPDIF fed to a AV receiver and I haven't touched a CL card in all this time, don't miss them.

  • chizow - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    I've always had a soft spot for Creative throughout the years. I'll never forget loading up Wing Commander for the first time after plunking down $100 for my first Sound Blaster and just oogling over actual MIDI sound (and later, voice with the voice pack) rather than beeps and buzzes from an internal speaker.

    Throughout the years I've continued buying Creative products with the latest being the X-Fi. After countless hours trying to troubleshoot it with Vista and my 650i mobo, I finally called it quits and came to the same realization the article predicts: add-in sound cards are dead.

    Sure Creative products have had their share of problems here and there, but I'll certainly miss the superior positional sound of EAX in games. As much as people want to bash Creative, their drivers and their products, they sure as hell knew what they were doing when it came to audible differences in games. So long Creative, here's one person who will miss having a company who actually cared about PC sound.
  • leexgx - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    new vista drivers are out for X-FI now ? not tryed them yet as i am running on me XP drive now (some games little BSOD unstable still heh)
  • KillerCroc - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    Creative were really responsible for putting sound cards and PC audio on the map - but they lost their dominance to advances in on-MB audio (despite Realtek's gaffes)and better chips from the competition. And as I'm writing this and listening to MediaMonkey/Shoutcast, I'm hearing a perfect example of "Years later, I come across many SB cards with horrible crackling noises," from my Audigy 2ZS card. maybe I'll do better with an M-Audio card....
  • psychotix11 - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    Other companies are releasing better sound cards. Creatives' junk really only has a point if you are a gamer and only a gamer. Their professional branded cards are a joke so let's not even delve into that. However unless all you do is play games that can use EAX5 auzentech, htomega, hell even asus now, make a far better product in both build quality, feature set, sound quality, and driver quality.

    Happy with my sound cards with full dolby DTS! Screw creative!
  • IKeelU - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    I really hope it isn't the end of add-in sound boards. I don't care who makes the hardware, but I like having noise-free output w/ positional sound. The so-called "HD Audio" on my motherboard is utter crap. Even with a mediocre pair of headphones I can hear the noise. I just don't get how people can get by with that junk.
  • Demon-Xanth - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    When I had an AWE64 soundcard, I thought Creative was awesome, I had one of their Permidia2 cards and I was happy with it. I even had their DVD kit (with decoder card!). I was practically a poster Creative Labs fan. But then I got a Live card, and was less than impressed. It often flat out didn't work in my system, I ended up getting another as a gift and THAT one worked right. The first card worked in other systems, but not mine. So I stuck with the AWE64. It handled the inputs well and the sound was good. And best of all, the drivers didn't install extra crap that cluttered Windows.

    Then I got their Digital VCR card. My PC wasn't able to capture and convert full TV res to a compressed format at the time, and here was a card that captured to MPEG2. Well, this card turned out to be a steaming pile of crap. In two days I found a rather obvious and major bug in their software. It took them 11 months to fix it. And I couldn't find a single program that could handle the MPEG2 files that it exported to that could do more than just play them. (many failed to do even that)

    But the key tipping point was when onboard audio stopped sucking. Is it as good as a dedicated sound card? Probably not. But it's not the CPU robbing POS that it used to be. And with most boards having it, the soundcard requirement went from nearly 100% to just a tiny little percent of users.

    ...and there was that time they wanted to charge for driver DLs.
  • Dfere - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    Not being a techead... two thumbs up on the subject matter. Aslo good job for picking a company near (if not dear) to most of us.

    On the article you end with "only time will tell". IMHO do not equivocate. For a true business article, stick with facts and then possibly a projection -"The stock price is low... here is why", then "forecasts for home theater buys indicate...", or "if peripheral component sales become its focus, the company can still capitalize on its name and branding, it needs to find other companies it can acquire and slap a label on...." or something like "Seems like Creative needs to do something.... but what....?"

    Did Creative release any comments about future direction.. etc etc...?
  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    Creative has not released its FY2007 shareholder report, nor have they filed their SEC form 20F yet, so no, there's not really much out of them on future direction. Since they are no longer traded on American exchanges, they're not required to publish these documents either.

    What I can tell you from their FY2007 conference call, they're aware their not doing well and they have some vague plans. For MP3 players, they're going to focus on flash players, and look to exploit the few markets Microsoft isn't competing in yet (which will be trouble with the Zune2). Their other big area is X-Fi licensing, including the actual DSP (Auzentech may not be the only one to license it) and the X-Fi crystalizer for other devices. Frankly none of this is very inspiring.

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