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Appeared on: Thursday, May 20, 2004
Staying AHEAD: Jim Corbett Shows His Cards

1. Part 1

STAYING AHEAD Nero’s Man Shows His Cards - Page 1

Ahead has shown a rapid growth in the last 2 years with Nero Burning Rom having become a synonym for CD/DVD burning/authoring, and is successfully bundled with the majority of burner manufacturer’s retail packages. With key management decisions and strategic alliances, the company has adopted a formula for success based on satisfying market demands while maintaining technological prominence.

Mr Jim Corbett, Exeutive Director of Ahead Software AG, is the key figure behind all these successfully managed innovations from Ahead in the global software market. The following interview was kindly given to CDRInfo, just a few days before CeBIT 2004, Hanover, opens its gates.

CDRINFO: When Ahead's founders originally started the company, they had a vision in mind. What was that vision, what is it today and what is it for the future. We would like to know whether their vision has changed, and if so how and why.

J. Corbett: Well it might sound a bit of a cliché, but we genuinely had this vision of producing World class application software with instant brand name recognition. That vision still exists today, and probably more so as Ahead strives for mass market appeal in a converging IT and CE industry.

CDRINFO: What standards and criteria does Ahead enforce with regards to the level of their employees, especially in the fields of research and development, quality control and marketing.

J. Corbett: We’re very customer orientated, but also we’re a people company. We have some unbelievably creative employees at Ahead, and there is a lot of freedom. At the same time, we have a big responsibility to our users, so we’ve been very fortunate in getting a mix of talent that I think is quite unique in today’s software industry. Developers have a degree of freedom to expression that probably goes beyond that of our competitors, and importantly we have a management team that listens.

CDRINFO: What is the position of Ahead in the software market at this moment. How do you plan to maintain or even improve that position and what are your plans for future expansion?

J. Corbett: The past year has seen a huge change in Ahead Software. We’ve gone from being a one product company known primarily for CD Recording, to one that is marketing a complete suite of applications, targeting the DVD, Home and Mobile Entertainment, and Consumer Electronics Industries in general. We’ve expanded our engineering enormously over the past 2 years, and this is set to continue. Investing more in R & D, and naturally bringing more creative people on board, is paramount in our future planning.

2. Part 2

STAYING AHEAD Nero’s Man Shows His Cards - Page 2

CDRINFO: Being a leading figure in a profitable and expanding corporation, what are the main ingredients of your success?

J. Corbett: Our people. However I strongly believe that being able to deliver what consumers really want in application software has been a critical factor as well. We’re lucky in having quality people delivering quality products. Put that alongside a loyal and committed customer base, and it’s probably a strong recipe for success in any ones imagination. But at the end of the day, we’re only as good as our customers allow us to be, and that’s why we are totally committed to going that extra length to ensure we keep their faith.

CDRINFO: There is a lot of pressure lately from the European Community, regarding copy protection issues for DVD. Some companies have been forced to stop developing their software or even move overseas to protect their company's advantages. What is your opinion and where does Ahead stand on this issue? Will this impact on Ahead’s plans?

J. Corbett: We totally respect Intellectual Property and the law. So we would never do anything that would undermine this, and put our customers and company at risk.

CDRINFO: A couple of years back, Bill Gates announced optimistic plans regarding Internet TV. How have Ahead and other software companies in general, reacted to Microsoft's plans?

J. Corbett: Well we are expecting the Media Centre approach to become increasingly popular, along with IP based home media servers. This is an area of great interest for us, and there is a definite part for Ahead to play in the future of the Internet based living room. Already some competitors have been following the MS approach with PVR kind of applications, but we are working on a concept beyond that.

CDRINFO: Microsoft was one of the main supporters of Mount Rainier. However, its implementation under the Windows OS has not been announced yet. Has or does Ahead plan to cooperate towards this direction and how closely will UDF writing software (InCD, etc) be related to this effort?

J. Corbett: We’ve been spending a lot of energy in this direction, and our InCD development team has a significant size. We’re not always privy to what MS plan in their Operating Systems, but there have been plenty of rumours about Longhorn and Mr Rainier packet writing integration. We’ll just have to see, but we are totally committed to UDF and Mr Rainier support in our InCD product.

3. Part 2

STAYING AHEAD Nero’s Man Shows His Cards - Page 3

CDRINFO: Besides hardware, what other factors play a key role in the quality of DVD recording?

J. Corbett: Media is probably the single biggest one after hardware, and there have been plenty of stories about format and hardware incompatibilities. On the software side we have implemented a rigid check procedure to ensure the quality of a Nero written DVD will work where the hardware and media allows it to. But with competing formats, and differing media standards, we believe there is still a lot of education needed before the consumer really understands why sometimes things will not work the way he or she expects them to.

CDRINFO: Hardware manufacturers have already announced the market roadmap for DVD, saying that the 16x recording speed is the top limit, and the recording speed race is in full progress. Philips and Pioneer have announced dual layer recording. On the other hand, users are complaining about the incompatibility of current recorded DVDs (single layer). It appears that DVD recording has not followed in the footsteps of CD-R regarding quality consistency. With this in mind, is dual layer recording feasible while even overburing on single layer DVDs has not yet been achieved?

J. Corbett: Our initial testing with double layer DVD recording has proved very successful, both from a writing and playback point of view. We believe double layer will prove hugely successful, and whilst it’s very true to say DVD has not been able all the time to follow CD in terms of quality consistency, there have been several mitigating circumstances. What’s undeniable though is that DVD is the fastest growing consumer format of all time, and we’ll continue to see unprecedented growth for years to come.

CDRINFO: Both AOD (Toshiba-NEC) and Blu-Ray technologies seem to be addressed to professionals due to their high price for the mid-user. Do you believe that they will be more affordable in the near future and how will Ahead support these technologies?

J. Corbett: We’re already co-operating with the AOD and Blu-Ray groups, but there are a number of factors that could determine which one will eventually win through. Cost is a big factor in mass market adoption, and it’s conceivable that both formats will find a niche for some time in the professional or pro-sumer market, with double layer drives becoming the main consumer format. Newer codec technologies such as AVC/H264 could also have a deciding factor in determining the success.

CDRINFO: What do you believe will be the next generation(s) of mass storage recording media to hit the market and how far away are we from this?

J. Corbett: Well speaking for the consumer market, I think long term it will still be DVD based. Probably when CD first came about in 1982, you wouldn’t have given much hope for this being around in the next century. But that is exactly what has happened, and even in 2004, the sales of CD products will be extremely high. But with double layer on the horizon and AOD and Blu-Ray to come, we’ll be well served for some time yet in DVD mass storage.

CDRINFO: So what new products or technologies can be expected from Ahead this CeBIT?

J. Corbett: 2004 excites us a lot because we have so many interesting developments taking place. For CeBIT you can expect some pretty major enhancements to our existing applications, including the likes of Recode, and NeroVision Express. We’ll be featuring DVD+R DL (double layer) demonstrations with our partners, and in the case of Nero Digital, we intend to implement key technologies such as Parametric Stereo, giving for the first time, terrific quality at bit rates as low as 24kbps, and realising 5.1 audio at 64kbps. We believe this will raise the stakes in low bite rate, minimal quality loss encoding, but the video side also excites us. We intend to preview AVC/H264 for the first time, which takes MPEG-4 onto the next level. Recode will also support multiple file import, (not just DVD folders), so the transparent transcoding into Nero Digital format will become even easier for existing content that exists out there. But there will be a whole lot more, which is why we’ll be promoting in so many different areas during the show. So we’re looking forward to welcoming as many of our customers as possible.

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