A few days ago I spent some time exploring the FLAC music file format, which splits the difference between small, lossy audio file formats (AAC and MP3) and gigantic, lossless file formats (AIFF and WAV). Apple supports these two kinds of files in iTunes and the iPod. Now it's time for the company to step up and support FLAC, the fascinating file format sitting in the middle of it all.
FLAC is short for Free Lossless Audio Codec. In other words, FLAC files are free from any of the artifacts you'd find in AAC or MP3 files, and sound like uncompressed AIFF or WAV files, or music played directly from a CD. The difference is that FLAC files take up roughly half the space of AIFF or WAV, making them much more economical for people who want to listen to music without compression artifacts and without breaking the bank buying more and more storage for an uncompressed digital music collection.
FLAC's got all the right attributes. It supports tagging, just like the other formats, so integrating it with iTunes and the iPod would be easy. Right now, though, if you want to do FLAC, your best bet is to use xACT, a really nice utility, but it's no iTunes.
Today, FLAC is mostly used for the distribution of live music online. Bands like Phish and Metallica use FLAC because it's lossless (there's that word again) and because their fans demand high-quality audio files.
FLAC's not for everyone. But it fills a hole in the current format list supported by iTunes and the iPod. So, um, whaddaya say, Apple?