Two of the best and most popular audio formats have returned to iTunes. The open source formats FLAC and ogg vorbis can play natively in iTunes once again thanks to a new universal binary QuickTime plug-in from Xiph.org.
Vorbis, or Ogg Vorbis, is a lossy audio codec designed to work much like an MP3 file, delivering relative quality in a small file, and is in fact initially developed by some of the same people who created the MP3 format. However, unlike MP3, ogg vorbis is an open source format, with none of the licensing issues of the former. Supporters also note that it has higher fidelity at the same bit-rates as MP3—meaning that a 160kbps ogg vorbis file would sound more like the original recording than a 160 kbps MP3 file. It was designed to completely replace the MP3 format.
FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec. Unlike formats such as ogg vorbis or MP3, FLAC is (as the name states) lossless, meaning that no data is lost in the recording or conversion process, making FLAC suitable for archival purposes. FLAC is often used for high-quality recordings of live concerts and events.
Both formats have their strengths and have been steadily gaining popularity, yet since the advent of QuickTime 7, iTunes users have been missing out,
something I lamented last year in a story on iTunes hacks and plugins. Since then, iTunes users have had to rely on third-party programs if they want to listen to FLAC or vorbis.
Xiph.org, the non-profit organization that oversees both formats, released a new QuickTime plug-in that restores FLAC and ogg vorbis compatibility. Simply
download the plug-in from Xiph, run the installer and you should be able to play both file types natively in iTunes. You will also need to uninstall any previous versions of the vorbis plug-in.
Some iTunes compatibility issues remain; iTunes won’t crossfade a vorbis file, nor will it play them over AirTunes, among other things. However, overall it’s tremendously preferable to having to launch another application just to hear your favorite music in an open format.