AAC has always been an option for Mac users only. Until now, the only way to create Enhanced AAC podcasts was by using Apple's GarageBand, which has no Windows equivalent. After lots of Googling, I ran across a little command line application called SlideShow Assembler. SSA makes it possible, if a bit confusing, to create Enhanced AAC podcasts in Windows. The principle is this: there is a text file (with the file extension .pod) that you edit in Notepad or another plain text editor. You type in the location of the audio you wish to use for your podcast, the desired name of the output file, the timestamps where you would like chapter breaks, and the locations of the images you would like to accompany those chapters. Once the .pod file is edited to your satisfaction, you simply drag and drop it onto the SSA.exe file (or a shortcut to it), and your Enhanced AAC file (it'll have a file extension of .m4a) will be generated automatically.
It sounds easy enough, but the hardest part is editing that .pod file. Not fun. It takes forever. Granted, it gets easier as you get used to it, but it's still very time consuming. There is a GUI Beta release available, but it doesn't allow for chapters or changing artwork. It pretty much defeats the purpose. It just lets you apply static cover art to an AAC file, a function that iTunes already has covered. So the only option is to do it manually. When you download SSA, there is an included PDF file with instructions, but it is written in a horribly confusing way that assumes you already know how the program works. I had to figure it out for myself, using the PDF manual for occasional assistance to verify that I was on the right track. Once I had it figured out, the pieces fell into place and the ouctome was great. The two gripes I have with the results are relatively minor ones. First, you have to create a separate chapter for each individual image. I regularly listen to podcasts that have multiple changing images within a single chapter. This might not be a big concern for some, but it could prove to be a pretty big inconvenience for others. If, for example, you want to discuss an episode of TV and include changing screen captures, each screen cap would need to be its own chapter. This means a lot of post-production work for the podcaster. My other minor concern is about links. You can embed a hyperlink in each image, but the problem SSA poses is that once you move on to the next chapter, the link from the previous chapter lingers. There might be a solution that I'm missing, but it seems like once you insert a link, it stays there for the rest of the podcast. The easy solution is to avoid links all together and just include the address to which you want to refer your listeners in the images you use.
So that's it. AAC in Windows is possible, but tricky. I recommend you give it a shot. If enough people use it, maybe they'll improve it or come out with a better GUI. I really want someone, be it Apple or some random college student, to come out with Windows software that functions similarly to GarageBand. A Windows version of GarageBand would be great, but that seems almost impossible at this point. If someone could build a small, simple piece of software for the sole purpose of drag-and-drop Enhanced AAC podcast creation, I'd be more than happy, and I'd even pay for it if the price was right. But for now, SSA is pretty darn good!