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This week in digital living

The number of people who download free audio programs known as podcasts is set to explode, according to a new report.

The number of people who download free audio programs known as podcasts is set to explode over the next few years, according to a new report.

Researchers at the Diffusion Group predicted this week that the U.S. podcast audience will climb from 840,000 last year to 56 million by 2010. By that time, three-quarters of all people who own portable digital music players will listen to podcasts, up from less than 15 percent last year, the digital entertainment research group said.

PC makers such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Gateway are gearing up for an aggressive back-to-school buying season. And while the companies are targeting college freshmen with promotional prices for their latest revved-up desktop systems, many universities and colleges recommend students use notebook computers.

Chipmaker Intel and actor Morgan Freeman's movie production company, Revelations Entertainment, have formed a new venture aimed at distributing first-run movies over the Internet. The new company, called ClickStar, is taking on an unfamiliar and potentially controversial role in Hollywood, which has viewed online distribution as a potentially destabilizing force on DVD sales.

Grassroots political groups concerned about the next U.S. Supreme Court vacancy are mounting cybercampaigns they couldn't have imagined more than a decade ago, when the last seat was up for grabs. Both the conservative Progress for America and the liberal People for the American Way groups, for example, have created Web sites aimed at influencing the nomination and confirmation process.