Apple lossless compression – a real winner

Apple lossless compression has more names than a traveling gypsy. To some, it's Apple Lossless Encoder, or ALE (which I might need after writing about media formats for six hours).

To others, it's Apple Lossless Audio Codec, or ALAC (unfortunately, this office features "a lack" of ale).

Both were developed by Apple for the compression of its digital music files.

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Although ALE and ALAC are the popular acronyms for Apple's lossless compression technology, the typical extension is .m4a. This is because Apple's lossless goods are usually contained within MP4 or Mpeg4. Developed in 2004 as a Quicktime component, Apple lossless compression is a slightly more mainstream approach to high-quality compression than others in the category. Although it shares some similarities with Apple's other compression technology, AAC, ALE is much more like its analogous pal Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC).

Who can use ALE?

Anyone can use ALE as long as it's in moderation. Okay, no more beer jokes. However, Apple's lossless compression was developed for use with many of its iPods, with the exception of that poor little orphan, the Shuffle. Owners will need the dock connector in order to employ the lossless compression, but coupled with firmware this isn't a difficult measure to take.

Poor iPod Shuffle – no lossless compression for you

Back up a sec – what's "firmware"?

You've probably heard of software, which are the applications that make use of a computer's hardware. Firmware, like an Alabama wedding, is an odd mix of two relatives. Really, firmware is simply software that is embedded within a hardware device, such as the Basic Integrated Operating System (BIOS) installed on most IBM-compatible home computers.

Surprisingly, ALE and ALAC do not follow the Digital Rights Management, or DRM, piracy-prevention scheme that most of Apple's Quicktime applications do. For those who don't know, digital rights management is the employment of a number of technologies from a variety of publishers to limit the amount of pirated data available to the public. In many cases, DRM seeks to weed out the illegal sharing of movie, music, and software files, which are – perhaps, expectedly – the most in-demand by tech pirates.

iTunes has supported DRM through its “Fairplay” program, but ALAC has somehow avoided the peering eye of digital-rights management

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Apple has been a major advocate of DRM, especially through its own program "Fairplay", which is built into the purchasing and play foundations of iTunes. Although this kind of format could be applied at any time to ALAC, for now there is no definitive measure to prevent ALE or ALAC from installing illegal music files on an iPod.