Last week, I
and offered some pointers to how you could get
started along with reviews of a couple of books that can help. This week I
want to back up a bit and talk about how you can get started
First, though, I do need to address the question of what makes a
different from a regular audio file posted on a website. On a purely
technical level, nothing is really different about the audio file.
In fact, if you just want to listen to a podcast to see if it is something
you would like to listen to on a regular basis, the best bet is often to go to the podcast
website and simply download a recent episode and play it in your media
What is different is the way in which the audio file is normally retrieved. Rather
than being something you click on, download, and play, you subscribe
to the podcast RSS feed. This works by virtue of the fact that Dave Winer
added an element called an Enclosure to RSS 2.0.
Note that the enclosure element is actually not specific to audio: it can be used for
pretty much any media element including video or images.
The beauty of this solution is that you simply need to subscribe to
whichever podcasts interest you and then listen to them whenever new shows
arrive - and whenever you feel like playing them. No need to check web
sites for updates. No need to be online to listen to a streaming feed.
Many people have referred to podcasting as "TiVo for audio" or
"timeshifting radio" and indeed it very much works that way.
So in order to subscribe to podcasts, you need some software tool that
can: a) handle RSS feeds; and b) interpret the RSS enclosure tag to
download the media automatically for you. At a base level, that is pretty
much all you need and the software that does this is often called either a
"podcatcher" or "podcast aggregator". Of course, the programs out there
don't simply do the base. They add the ability to easily manage your
subscriptions, schedule the interval to check (ex. setup an appropriate
cron job), manage the downloaded files, etc.
Linux users have the choice, of course, of podcatcher software in pretty
much any language and with or without a GUI. A search on "podcast" at
sites such as SourceForge or freshmeat will turn up a variety of
choices in various states of development. Some of the prime contenders
iPodder - For someone just getting started who wants a GUI, my
personal recommendation would be to start out with iPodder (also called the "iPodder
Lemon" because of its logo). Being python-based,
iPodder is cross-platform and is heavily-used within the Windows and Mac
worlds. Linux users receive the benefit of all that usage/testing and have
a robust program to use. Screenshots
are available if you would like to see what it is all about.
BashPodder - For the text-inclined, BashPodder
provides the functionality you need via a basic shell script. Simple,
easy, and a breeze to extend. In fact, the site contains a wide range of
user-contributed extensions and customizations. Additionally, for those who want the
power of the shell but still with a GUI, there is BPConf that
allows you to easily configure BashPodder.
jpodder - Another interesting choice is jpodder, a Java-based cross-platform
podcatcher. Like iPodder, it is GUI-based
and has a range of features.
Other choices - There are a range of other options (and readers
are encouraged to leave their recommendations as comments), including:
A reader last week also commented that they were able to have Apple's
iTunes program running on their Linux system using CrossOver Office. In
any event, you need to have one of these programs installed to have the
simplicity of subscribing to podcasts.
The Next Step
Once you have the software installed, you need to find podcasts to which
you can subscribe. Some of the podcatchers, such as iPodder, include a
built-in directory. Even with such a directory, though, you'll probably
want to check out some of the directory sites. More keep appearing on a
daily basis, but some of the major sites include:
Typically all you need to do is find the URL for the show's RSS feed and
then enter it into your podcatcher software. Some programs allow
drag-and-drop... but in any event that's it... you are now subscribed and
will start to receive new shows. (Some podcatcher software will download
the most recent show and then all new shows - some software will download
all shows available in the feed.)
Happy listening! And please do feel free to leave comments to this
article about your favorite podcasts - or feedback about various podcatcher
to post comments)