Creative Labs are one of the biggest players in the PC Sound Card market – great hardware, but their downfall has always been the drivers and software they develop and distribute for their products. And their attitude towards customers really does stink.
The failings of their software solutions were made even more prominent with the release of Windows Vista, which completely changed the way audio drivers work in comparison to XP. During Beta and RC stages of Vista testing, Creative had no proper drivers available (I had no sound functionality when using Vista x64 RC2), while other big name manufacturers at least made an effort to distribute some functional Beta samples ahead of Vista’s final release date.
Eventually, Creative got their act together and released some drivers which at least allowed you to get sound from your card on Vista – but that was about all they could do – many features were missing that were present in XP – features that a lot of people bought these cards for (EAX in gaming, for example). Creative blamed this on the way Vista worked saying that the software could not easily be adapted.
Fast forward to more recently (2007) when Creative released a software update called ALchemy which re-enabled OpenAL sound processing in Vista – effectively breathing life into X-Fi and Audigy series cards. Problem was, Creative released ALchemy free of charge to X-Fi users but charged for it to become useable for Audigy cards – even though the process was the same and the features were the same.
Enter Daniel Kawakami (Daniel K). Driver modder. Working on his own, he modified the free version of ALchemy to work on Audigy series cards and also modified the Creative drivers themselves for Vista users to enable functionality that Creative said was impossible to reinstate. He’d basically done their work for them and this allowed people to actually use their Creative sound cards again.
Then it all went sour. In March 2008, Creative issued a post on their community forums basically telling Daniel K to stop developing their drivers or they would take legal action:
We have read the strong feedback about Creative’s forum post regarding driver development by Daniel_k and other outside parties. Creative’s message posted on our behalf by our Company spokesperson tried to address our concern about the improper distribution of certain software which is the property of other companies. However, we did not make it as clear as we would have liked that we do support driver development by independent third parties. The huge task of developing driver updates to accommodate the many changes in the Vista operating system and the extensive testing required, including the lengthy Vista certification requirements for audio, makes it very difficult for Creative to develop updates for all past products. Outside developers have been very helpful to Creative and our customers by developing updates for many of our Sound Blaster products, and we do support and appreciate these efforts. This however does not extend to the unauthorized distribution of other companies’ property. We hope to work out a mutually agreeable method for working with Daniel_k in supporting his efforts in driver development. Going forward, we are committed to doing a better job of working more closely with third parties to support their development for our products and our customers.
And also following direct questioning, O’Shaughnessy, the company’s vice president of corporate communications said:
If we choose to develop and provide host-based processing features with certain sound cards and not others, then that is a business decision that only we have the right to make. The main issue is that Kawakami has been including support for features that Creative didn’t intend to enable on certain cards.
In response to the threat, Daniel K responded that he didn’t believe he was a hacker and that modifying drivers is common practise – take modified nVidia drivers that allow SLi in non-SLi chipsets boards, or the GeForce to Quadro mod. The full list of features which were disabled in Vista by Creative and succesfully re-enabled by Daniel K are as follows:
CMSS, CMSS2 and Stereo Surround
Advanced EQ and Special FX presets
Hardware MIDI synthesizer
Overall, his general opinion of Creative is summed up in the following quote:
They publicly threatened me just to show their arrogance. If they had contacted me by email or private message, I would have done the same thing (remove everything) and no one would know about their dissatisfaction.
There was no need for Creative to remove everything that I’d posted on the forums even if it was unrelated to the modded drivers. If they can’t provide better drivers, then let people make their own choice.
And I must say, I feel exactly the same – as I’m sure other people do.
If you want to check these drivers out you can find them on various torrent sites and also links here