26 February 2007

MP3's Loss, Open Source's Gain

"Alcatel-Lucent isn't the only winner in a federal jury's $1.52 billion patent infringement award against Microsoft this week. Other beneficiaries are the many rivals to the MP3 audio-compression format.

AAC is one potential alternative. The format achieves greater fidelity at higher compression rates than MP3 and has been licensed by Apple for its iTunes music store. Apple wraps AAC is a proprietary digital rights management scheme known as Fairplay that renders it unusable outside Apple's ecosystem. But AAC itself is an open format based on industry standard MPEG-4 technology. It's not royalty free, but with standards backing it's likely the strongest contender for a universal digital audio format.

Microsoft's Windows Media format similarly offers better performance than MP3 and could also see a boost, though it too includes a digital rights management component that has hampered its acceptance in the market.

One of the most interesting contenders is Ogg Vorbis, an open-source, royalty-free rival to MP3 that also represents a generational improvement in sound quality."

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