Apple announced today that it has open sourced its Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC) under the Apache license, opening the door to compatibility with a variety of third-party hardware and software. Why is this newsworthy? First, some background: Apple says its 256kbps AAC "iTunes Plus" audio files are virtually indistinguishable from original recordings, but audiophiles tend to disagree, turning to lossless codecs such as FLAC and even WAV for greater fidelity. Apple has long offered the ability within iTunes to import audio in ALAC, but until now had relegated playback to its own devices and applications. (David Hammerton reverse engineered Apple's work in 2005, making it possible for third-party software to decode the format.)
Naturally, adding support for the codec at this point will be up to manufacturers and developers. Open source doesn't always equal widespread adoption; Android didn't offer native FLAC playback until version 3.1, for instance.
And while Apple may have done its part on the audio end, we're still left wondering when the company will execute on its longstanding promise to make FaceTime an open industry standard.