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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  • KingofL337 - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    How do you spend 60+ million in R&D a year and release almost nothing except a few iffy mp3 players. Creative hasn't released a new sound card product in years. They just keep re-releasing the Audugy brand and thats about it. How long has it been since Nvidia released the soundstorm chipsets? Everyone you talk to about sound cards wants real time DD / DTS / AC3 encoding and creative still hasn't released a product with that feature.

    I for one won't miss Creative's overpriced crappy sound cards once they are gone.
  • Scorpion - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    I've been saying this since '99:

    Creative doesn't innovate, they regurgitate.
  • Pyramix - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    It was an informative article and I am glad to see this new direction on this website.
  • Spoelie - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    But there are three 'but(t)s' in the last paragraph, but it's not really that annoying, but also a little annoying
  • smn198 - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

  • mindless1 - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    I beg to differ with the article on the point of onboard sound being a joke 10 years ago. 10 years ago onboard sound was superior for it's primary (most common) purpose, 2 channel analog output.

    Take for example Intel P2 boards with Ensoniq (later bought by creative) 1370 chip on them. They had a very full sound, better bass, and it was more immune to system noise than today's integrated audio. People I built systems for back then often remarked about how unusually good they sounded compared to what they had been used to with some sound cards. Creative later rebadged the Ensoniq 1370 and made some sound cards, but things when downhill when the industry went to 48KHz rate and resampled everything.

    The same goes for many solutions back then, they typically used discrete sound chips and did fairly well at 2 channel analog output. While there weren't a lot of bells and whistles, and the paper specs didn't look as good, I think we all know paper specs mean little when it comes to sound quality, at least when talking about low level signals opposed to circuits with high gain like power amps.

    The terrible truth is, most people have two analog amplified speakers and nothing matters to them except whether that config sounds good. With onboard sound today there is usually a lot of undesirable noise from the onboard audio, and as such it is almost the worst onboard audio has ever been. I partly blame the higher currents in today's systems, but nevertheless it effects the result. Some systems are bad enough you have to disable ACPI/Halt just to get rid of a lot of the noise, if you care much at all about audio quality.
  • LoneWolf15 - Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - link

    Of all the driver problems I had with sound cards, the Ensoniq 1370-based ones were the biggest pains. The entire AudioPCI family was just plain and simple, miserable; I've had numerous occasions where I ripped one from a machine because of cards working, not working next reboot, driver installs sometimes fixing it, sometimes not, etc. Sad, knowing that the original ISA Ensoniq Soundscape cards really rocked.

    Onboard sound was bad years ago. IMHO, it still isn't great, although the ADI/Soundmax and Sigmatel codecs used on Intel boards put most of Realtek's stuff to shame. Creative had a golden opportunity at some point to do this with their own chips, but I think a combination of elitism, and likely demanding higher prices probably doomed this. The only one that has taken them up on this is MSI, and the sound chip used has been the rather lame one used in the Audigy SE and SBLive! 24-bit, with no true hardware DSP. I think the sound card market death is only partially due to Creative; some of it is due to the new way Vista DirectX works, sacrificing possible innovation in audio for relative driver stability, and some of it is due to no other vendors stepping up to the plate to provide true competition, especially in the mainstream and gaming markets.
  • mindless1 - Thursday, October 4, 2007 - link

    I think you just had bad drivers or buggy motherboard bios, I ran 1370 boards without any problem. If you are only referring to early win95 era drivers, ok, but most drivers for win95 were junk, that's how it went with driver development at the time and unfortunately too many people were quick to fault the OS. NOt that Win95 was flawless but there's definitely some variable besides the card when I didn't have the same problems.

  • Cincybeck - Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - link

    Looking back, I think Aureal probably suffered more from bad legal council and childish antics. Yes Creative issued the first lawsuit but, Aureal fired back with its own counter-suit. Aureal ended up winning that first lawsuit, but the two companies bitterly went back and forth like two siblings. Aureal even went as far as publicly announcing Creative's first PCI card on their website. A low blow if you ask me on Creative's late entry to the PCI market. I don't see how any one can entirely blame Aureal's demise on Creative.

    As for Creative's products I've never had any bad luck with them. They've all worked as they should and I can not remember a single time where I’ve had a BSOD as a result of the Audio drivers. Maybe I've just have been lucky.

    As for Vista support I believe the gun should be pointed at Microsoft on that one. Because not only is Creative having issues but Turtle Beach is as well. Even going as far as stating that any one using their computer to accomplish a task should stick with WinXP ""> Its obvious Microsoft cut the floor out from under their feet with not supporting DirectSound/3D in UAA, maybe a legacy mode? I don't know.

    Personally I enjoy the quality clear sound provided by my Audigy and still plan on buying an X-fi, if that means sticking with XP for a year or two more I have no problem with that. Granted I haven't heard a new on-board as of late, but the quality still echoes in my mind and just Blah. Anyway XP does everything I need it to and it would appear in most cases it does it better than Vista.
  • PandaBear - Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - link

    With everything getting integrated, you either have to move up and be a chipset (at least south bridge) company or consumer product company. They have the Cambridge soundwork name, why not build good home theater system with it? Just relying on Nomad for MP3 is not enough, esp others are doing it for other reasons (sandisk do it to sell more flash, MS do it to get more monopoly, etc). You have to wonder what is the advantage Creative have over the others.

    In the end, I think they should either go into a chipset company for mp3 players like sigmatel or get into home theater business like pioneer. They are just another logitech but with much higher overhead.

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