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Is Adaptec Losing the 12X Bundling Battle?

Commentary by Stephen F. Nathans

October 4, 2020 | Everyone knows the mass appeal of audio recording applications brought CD recording into the mainstream. But its journey from the industrial park to the living room began with two companies: Corel, whose CD Creator software made CD recording easy, and Hewlett-Packard, whose ability to move boxes in mass quantities made it cheap. Other companies quickly followed suit, making CD Creator-like accessibility fairly commonplace, and recorder prices steadily dropped in offerings from HP, Matsushita, Ricoh, Smart and Friendly, Plextor, and others. But no companies consolidated CD-R's mass-market potential like HP and Adaptec, which purchased CD Creator and its higher-powered counterpart, Easy CD Pro (and later, European market leader WinOnCD). And the two companies have been steady hardware-software bundling partners since Adaptec's Easy CD Creator hybrid debuted--that is, until HP's latest drive shipped with a new box-mate, Veritas' MyCD.

This in and of itself portends tectonic market shift; HP and Adaptec have ruled the roost in retail CD-R for nearly a half-decade. Meanwhile, in addition to its alignment with HP's roughly 25% share of the standalone drive market, Easy CD Creator enjoyed the company of such prominent players as TEAC, Matsushita, Smart and Friendly, and Plextor. It was the default choice, essentially. As one product manager for a competing software product told me, "Our job is to get the users who aren't satisfied with the Adaptec software that came with their drive."

Even as HP took the significant step of switching its hardware allegiance from reselling Philips drives to the latest Sony units, it's held fast in its alliance with Adaptec, bundling the latest OEM versions of Adaptec's Easy CD Creator with each successive drive--until now. Just as Adaptec announces significant corporate changes, with the separation of its hardware and software divisions and the creation of a new software development and sales subsidiary, Roxio, HP's new 12X CD-Writer 9500i debuts with a major change as well. Based on Sony's forthcoming 12/8/32 CD-R/RW device, the new HP drive will be bundled with Veritas' MyCD, a somewhat reconstituted version of Prassi's PrimoCD OEM, with simplicity and ease-of-use features brought to the fore. (Sony has been bundling Prassi software with its Spressa line for some time and will likely continue doing so, with the product nominally re-cast as Sony CD Extreme.) A joint press release issued September 12 by HP and Veritas stated that "all HP CD-Writers" will now ship with MyCD software.

The recent spate of 12X drive releases shows further diversification in bundling choices. Ricoh has announced two new bundles, a 12/10/32 CD-R/RW (the MP7120A) and a 12/10/32/8 CD-R/RW and DVD-ROM drive (the 9120A), both of which bundle two Prassi products, PrimoCD Pro for premastering (a competitor with Easy CD Creator) and abCD, a packet writing tool that parallels Adaptec's DirectCD. TDK, a longtime player in the CD-R/RW media market but a newcomer to the retail CD-R/RW drive scene, has opted for yet another software contender, Ahead's Nero. Combine that with the succumbing-to-bankruptcy of Smart and Friendly, first-in-field with U.S. bundles based on Sanyo's 8X and 12X recorders and Easy CD Creator regulars, and high-speed CD-R/RW software bundling bears little resemblance at COMDEX-time, 2000, to how it looked a year ago.

Adaptec still has several strongholds in the current market, and some new customers to boot. A number of key drive vendors continue to ship Easy CD Creator with the latest incarnations of their drives, including Plextor, TEAC, and Yamaha, which is in the process of stepping up its branding efforts considerably. Meanwhile, another new CD-R/RW entrant with HP-like consumer electronics girth, Iomega, has recently come up to speed (its first offerings were 6X throwbacks) with its ZipCD line, debuting a 12/4/32 model that incorporates Easy CD Creator.

Several factors may explain the changes in the bundling market. The OEM prices drive vendors and manufacturers get from software suppliers can make a big difference as they price their own products in an increasingly competitive, low-margin market. Another factor is the feature sets software vendors make available in their OEM versions vs. their retail versions, and Adaptec has always offered significantly more (like the attractive audio features of Spin Doctor) in their Deluxe Editions than in the OEM counterparts. Perhaps the most important of all, however, is the way the software market itself has evolved in the last year. While veterans like Gear and HyCD continue to have their greatest impacts in niche markets like API integration and professional hybrid CD authoring, Ahead's Nero is much more visible than it was a year ago. And Prassi, whose first venture into the CD-R software market, CD Rep, was squelched in a lawsuit with Adaptec, is just beginning to gather steam with its free-and-clear follow-up, PrimoCD. Add to that the arrival of Veritas and a handful of other newcomers targeting the novice user, and in an era when when high-speed CD-R is pretty easy to come by, and low MSRPs a standard fare, you have a new recipe for product differentiation instead of the old ones that are on everyone's menu now.

Late this fall, we'll see a new release of Easy CD Creator, adding new features to both its OEM and "Deluxe" versions (the one you can buy off-the-shelf or as an upgrade to the version you get in a drive bundle). What we'll also see increasingly is Adaptec frying bigger fish on the hardware-software integration front, with Easy CD Creator lurking in contented anonymity beneath an inviting "Create CD" icon somewhere near that unreradicable "MSN" symbol on the desktop of your new, CD-RW-equipped, high-end Compaq, Gateway, or Dell.

(Adaptec Inc./Roxio Inc., 691 South Milpitas Boulevard, Milpitas, CA 95035; 408/945-8600; Fax 408/262.2533; http://www.adaptec.com. Hewlett-Packard Company, 800 South Taft Avenue, Loveland, CO 80537; 800/752-0900; Fax 970/635-1610; http://www.hp.com/storage. Prassi Software USA, Inc., 1731 Technology Drive, Suite 490, San Jose, CA 95110; 408/573-9100; Fax 408/573-8100; http://www.prassieurope.com. Veritas Software Corporation, 1600 Plymouth Street, Mountain View, CA 94043; 650/335-8000; Fax 650/335-8050; http://www.veritas.com.)

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