How to Listen to Podcasts
Podcasting is still an infant in the internet world and unfamiliar to most people. The biggest misconception, perpetuated by the very term, is that in order to listen to podcasts one must have an iPod. In fact, no iPod, nor any portable music player at all, is necessary for listening to podcasts.
Without getting bogged down in jargon (and there's plenty), a podcast is a lot like a radio show (or TV show, as in the case of video podcasts), except instead of tuning in every week, you can download the newest episode whenever you like. The magic of podcasts, though, is that each one has a "feed" that tells a podcast-receiving program when the newest episode is available, and the program can download it automatically and even load it onto your portable device for listening at your leisure.
So, what software do you need to turn your PC into a podcast-downloading jukebox? A good place to start is Apple's iTunes, which is free for both Windows PCs and Macs.
Since it's designed to work with Apple iPods, iTunes is a great choice if you've got one. It's also a great choice for getting started with podcasts because the built-in iTunes Music Store has a directory of thousands of free audio and video podcasts, which is searchable and expertly categorized. If you come across a feed on the web for a podcast that isn't in Apple's directory, you can add it by clicking on the "Advanced" menu and selecting "Subscribe to Podcast..."
iTunes will serve you well if you're a casual listener who has an iPod or just want to listen on your PC (it's a pretty solid general-purpose music player, too), but what if your portable device doesn't have that Apple logo or you want some more robust features? For you there's Juice, an open source app designed solely for podcasts.
Like iTunes, Juice has a built-in directory of thousands of podcasts (though it's not quite as visual), but unlike iTunes it can keep almost any portable device synced with the freshest episodes of all of your subscribed podcasts. It also lets you schedule when it will check for and download new episodes, and can download podcasts over BitTorrent as well as password-protected ones (presuming you know the password).
Juice is a free download for Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux.
For a more technical view of podcasting, I recommend hitting Wikipedia's article on the topic, which has more jargon than would fit in a hundred podcasts.
Blogger since 1999, Jordan Running went pro in 2005 and never looked back. Sometimes programmer, occasional photographer, and serial tinkerer, he decided to to switch to Linux in 2001 but just hasn't quite gotten around to it yet.