Saturday, May 17, 2008

Creative Abandonment

My opinion of Creative Labs just got bumped down a notch.

Back in 1999, I bought a Sound Blaster Live sound card. It was the Value edition, but it had all the Live features that concerned me. I actually had to upgrade the rest of my PC to install this card. I didn't have a fast enough processor, which meant I needed a new motherboard, which meant I needed new RAM. It was all well worth it.

I love that card, and I still frequently refer to the rest of that PC being a life support system for it. I have absolutely no complaints about its performance, and have recommended Creative cards many, many times in the years since buying it.

When I put my new PC (Simeon) together last year, I didn't spring for a sound card for it. The motherboard offered onboard sound, and I didn't need advanced features (primarily Soundfonts, which are the main reason I like Creative cards). Simeon was intended as a video production and midrange gaming PC, not an audio workstation.

Rueben, my older PC with the Live card in it, is my audio workstation. It hosts the bulk of my music collection (or at least the portion that's not burned to DVDs), has a stereo hooked to its auxiliary input for vinyl and cassette rips, and has software like Audacity and PowerTracks Pro Audio installed.

One day recently, a friend (you've seen him before; he's known as Alex around these parts) told me that he had a spare Sound Blaster Live 5.1 card kicking around. No use at all to him anymore, so I could have it. I, of course, gratefully accepted. I figured it would beat the daylights out of Simeon's onboard sound, and would give me the option of doing heavier work with audio on either PC.

He gave me the card, but didn't know where the installation CD was. "No problem", said I, "I'll just go to Creative's website and download the software."

So I said, and so I eventually did. It took a while to get there, though.

On my first trip to Creative's site, I simply couldn't find the software for this card. All I saw was a page saying that the Live 5.1 is no longer supported, with an ad for a newer model I could buy instead. There was a pretty speech about how they don't support cards past a certain point.

I was quite annoyed. I understand them not continuing to develop new drivers and software for older models, but there is no excuse for the existing software and drivers being made unavailable. I have a really hard time believing that the server space and bandwidth for people downloading legacy software would be significant. If it proved to be so, then obviously the company should realize that they misjudged demand for the older product. They then should accept that people are rejecting the newer model and holding onto the older one, and ramp production and support back up (Microsoft, we're all looking at you).

Turns out my initial impression was mistaken. On another visit to the site (this time through the URL portal), I noticed, safely buried where it will almost never be spotted in the middle of a paragraph of text, a reference to support archives. I followed that almost-hidden link, poked around a little, and eventually found what I wanted.

If that archive hadn't existed at all, then this article would have been a complete slam of Creative and a recommendation that their products be avoided whenever possible. As it is, they still lose a notch or two in the support category. There's no reason why, when you follow the steps to identify your product off the main links on their site, you should be taken to a page that looks like you're being told to buy something or get lost. That process should take you to the product page in the "archives", without the middle step.

I don't understand the mentality that seems to be at work here. Somebody at Creative (probably a suit-wearer) seems to think that if customers don't think they can get drivers for older Creative hardware, they'll just go buy a new replacement Creative card. I guarantee you that if the drivers actually had been unavailable, any replacement card I bought would not have been from Creative, because I wouldn't trust them again.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a cartoon that got an editor fired. The text translates roughly to, "Don't be upset, Mohammed - we've all been in cartoons around here!"

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