In 1990, listening to music on your local PC was not as easy as it is now. Musical CDs were popular but they couldn't store a lot of music and people were not able to make their own custom musical compilations on a CD. And although MIDI and WAVE were the musical formats available back then, music was mainly listened on stereos. However, all of this changed almost 15 years ago, when in 1992 the MPEG-1 standard was introduced and with it came the MP3.
The MP3 format was first introduced in 1992 at the MPEG conference in London. It represented an easy-to-encode-and-decode digital music format. Files encoded in MP3 have a quality very similar to that of the CD audio tracks but are much smaller in size. And with the average disk space on a home computer at the time being about 500 MB, file size was important. In the years to follow, several MP3 encoders and decoders were produced, making the MP3 file format available to a much wider audience.
The MP3 files made a huge online impact. They successfully replaced the MIDI and WAV files, which were used at the time. MP3 files could now be streamed online and played with the help of a simple flash player. MP3 files also allowed for the creation of various music portals. MP3 files were smaller than any other music file at the time and at the same time - offering sound quality similar to that of the audio CDs. Their size allowed the regular online user to store several MP3 files in a hosting account, even if that web hosting account was very small.
MP3 files are also easy to decode, which made online streaming easier - the easier a file is to decode, the less CPU power is required for the process and the process can be carried out faster.
MP3 quickly became a big industry, with a lot of musical portals selling .mp3 files online. This made the fight for the best domain name with mp3 in it a very heated one. Now, an attractive domain name containing mp3 can be bought for no less than several thousand dollars
When MP3 was released, it allowed anyone to take music from their CDs and share it online in an easy manner. Very soon, whole websites and programs appeared, dedicated just to this idea. This caught the attention of the representatives of the musical companies. This gave birth to several lawsuits, which dragged on for years. The final result was in favor of the record industry - having illegal copies of songs was now prosecutable by law. However, this didn't affect the MP3 community a lot. Music portals started selling single songs very cheaply, with the permissions of the songs’ authors.
Today, MP3 is a relatively old format, but it's still widely popular. However, there are several alternatives to the MP3 format, which, although superior in many aspects, never got that popular among the general public.
AAC or Advanced Audio Coding is considered the successor of the MP3 format. It was introduced with the MPEG-4 standard by the MPEG group and provides much better quality than the regular MP3 files. It is slowly getting more and more public attention, since it's now the default audio format for Apple's iTunes store and Sony's PlayStation 3.
FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec. It provides much better sound quality than MP3 or AAC, but at the price of a bigger file size. While FLAC is popular among music enthusiasts, it's relatively unknown to the general public. The lack of popular encoders and decoders and the lack of support from most audio players keep FLAC from getting more popular.
The OGG format appeared several years after MP3, offering better sound quality with the same file size. However, it had to compete with MP3 when it was on the rise and was left unnoticed for a long time. Only in the last years the OGG format gained more attention and is now supported by almost all of the major audio players, both software and hardware.