March 28th: It started with a C&D (cease and desist) letter on their forums…
We are aware that you have been assisting owners of our Creative sound cards for some time now, by providing unofficial driver packages for Vista that deliver more of the original functionality that was found in the equivalent XP packages for those sound cards. In principle we don’t have a problem with you helping users in this way, so long as they understand that any driver packages you supply are not supported by Creative. Where we do have a problem is when technology and IP owned by Creative or other companies that Creative has licensed from, are made to run on other products for which they are not intended. We took action to remove your thread because, like you, Creative and its technology partners think it is only fair to be compensated for goods and services. The difference in this case is that we own the rights to the materials that you are distributing. By enabling our technology and IP to run on sound cards for which it was not originally offered or intended, you are in effect, stealing our goods. When you solicit donations for providing packages like this, you are profiting from something that you do not own. If we choose to develop and provide host-based processing features with certain sound cards and not others, that is a business decision that only we have the right to make.
Although you say you have discontinued your practice of distributing unauthorized software packages for Creative sound cards we have seen evidence of them elsewhere along with donation requests from you. We also note in a recent post of yours on these forums, that you appear to be contemplating the release of further packages. To be clear, we are asking you to respect our legal rights in this matter and cease all further unauthorized distribution of our technology and IP. In addition we request that you observe our forum rules and respect our right to enforce those rules. If you are in any doubt as to what we would consider unacceptable then please request clarification through one of our forum moderators before posting.
VP Corporate Communications
Creative Labs Inc.
From there, chaos ensued. Not only did just about every major tech site pick up on this story, but discussion erupted on just about every major forum as well. A petition even popped up. However, the brunt of the rage seems to have been released on Creative’s own forums. A screenshot of the top section of the front page (after the stickies) is below. (click the thumbnail for the full thing).
Now people are often upset at various companies, yet things tend not to usually get blown out of proportion. Why was this any different? A few reasons:
- Creative’s products are trash. Bold statement? Yes. What’s my justification for it? I’ve owned a *lot* of computers and hardware over the years, and I’ve seen it. To be honest, if Creative Labs didn’t get such a strong foothold in the market early on in the Soundblaster days, they probably wouldn’t still be around. Anyone old enough to remember Dr. Sbaitso, 2400 baud modems, or heck even just plain 386’s probably remembers that games tended to ask what sound card you had, and “Sound Blaster” or “Sound Blaster Compatible” was usually in there. There was little to no support for other cards, and it wasn’t until Windows games became really mainstream that other cards really stood much hope of being compatible with the latest games (even at that it took a *lot* of time for most drivers to mature enough to be worthwhile). That’s about the time Creative should have died, but the “Sound Blaster” mentality was still there, which meant people were still buying them, and let’s face it – other sound card manufacturers didn’t pump out great drivers nor did they make a lot of impressive stuff either. Creative didn’t have to *try* to compete, so they were content to put out poor stuff. For example, the Sound Blaster Live! didn’t get along with VIA’s KTxxx chipsets. They hogged the PCI bus, and just about anyone using a motherboard with a VIA chipset and Sound Blaster Live! got choppy sound. Changing BIOS settings could sometimes help, but usually didn’t. Who tried to come up with a fix for the massive numbers of users with issues? Creative? Nope. VIA? Nope. A man by the name of “George Breese” did. There was a PCI latency patch he released (that I used), which solved the choppy sound issues for many people, and at the very least, helped with most. Creative did nothing. Add the fact that driver updates for Sound Blaster products were extremely few and far between as well. I’d update drivers for just about every piece of hardware in my system multiple times before finding a Sound Blaster update released on Creative’s site. I’ve come to realize that their mentality towards a product is “make a product, make a driver for it, release it, then forget about it and start on a new product”. It’s gone on for years. With Vista out (and hardware companies having *loads* of time to get ready for it), apparently people have had a lot of issues with their products again. Whether it’s incompetent programmers behind the drivers, or a notion of “don’t improve our hardware/software but make the customer want to buy something newer/better”, one thing’s for sure – Creative’s products are trash. Buy them if you need them, buy them if they’re the most cost effective, and buy them if you really like the pretty boxes and all the marketing. Just remember what you’re paying for. You’re not getting a high quality product. You’re getting a piece of trash. Don’t expect it to ever work better than it does the day you put it in your system, and don’t expect it to work with anything new. It *might*, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’d bet on it.
- Reason 2 for everyone being upset – A lot of them *used* and in some cases *needed* Daniel_K’s driver packages. Now these packages are being taken away. If they can’t get their sound cards to work the way they want them to without those packages, those cards really will end up in the trash.
- “Sticking up for the little guy” – little guy’s well respected and doing a nice thing. Big bad company stomps out his work. If it were a well-liked company, it might just blow over. Unfortunately, nobody’s a big Creative Labs fan. Creative Labs just brought themselves down from “not well liked” to “hated bully”. Good job btw.
- No damage control – Sometimes, “the damage is done, and there’s nothing you can do about it”. This isn’t the case here. The fire was *started* with their post, and they just let the flame spread. They should have tried to work things out right away, or failing that, shut down their forums once the madness started to spread. By leaving the forums up, they left “the mob” with a central place to congregate, rather than forcing them to split up amongst the many other forums where things would have grown more slowly and dispersed more quickly.
So you may be wondering who’s side I’m on here. Despite the fact that I’m not a big fan of Creative, it was perfectly in their right to do what they did. Generally, accepting any form of money for modifying someone else’s IP (intellectual property) is a big no-no. Yes, I know that nowadays just about everyone has a “donate” link on the side of their page, and that you *could* say it’s for bandwidth only, but as far as most major companies go, if you’re modifying their IP but not causing any harm by doing so, you’re usually ok. This is part of what makes mod sites for so many games possible. However, start to profit off your work, and most companies will be quick to jump down your throat. Granted, Daniel_K’s work might have been costing Creative Labs a bit anyway if it resulted in less hardware upgrades, but Creative was likely willing to let it go and simply turn a blind eye to their IP being touched. Asking for donations though got the plug pulled on the whole operation.
Best case scenerio: What happens now? It depends on your viewpoint.
- For Creative – Daniel_K’s project dies, people are forced to upgrade and despite claims by many of never using Creative products again, they buy the newest Creative stuff anyway.
- For Current Users that needed Daniel_K’s stuff – Creative reverses their position. Not likely to happen though for reasons that would take another paragraph to explain (legit reasons – not just “because they’re jerks” or something). Alternately, that someone else begins/continues development and that Creative turns a blind eye.
- From my viewpoint – Daniel K’s project dies, people upgrade to non-Creative stuff and find out that some of it is actually pretty decent. Creative starts to trail for a while in marketshare and is forced to make better quality stuff with *good* up-to-date drivers to compete. Basically that competition drives better products at lower prices, not just from Creative but everyone else as well. Competition is always a good thing.