If you're new to the idea of podcasts, or never quite got the hang of them, there's never been a better time to get started. Podcasts are free audio and video broadcasts that you can download from the Internet and enjoy on your computer or MP3 player.
Regardless of your skill level, one of the best tools for enjoying podcasts is something you're probably already familiar with: Apple's iTunes software. iTunes makes it easy to browse and download thousands of podcasts, ranging from world news reports to fly fishing tutorials.
Once you're in the iTunes Store podcast directory, you can browse for podcasts by name, category, publisher, topic, or popularity, or sort out video podcasts from audio podcasts. If you plan on taking your podcasts on an older iPod that lacks video capabilities, you may want to restrict yourself to audio directory.
Once you've landed on a specific page for a podcast, you'll see a list of recent episodes that you can download individually. The real appealing part of podcasts, though, is the "subscribe" button at the center of the page. By subscribing to a podcast, you're giving iTunes instructions to look for new episodes of this podcast every time you run iTunes, and to download the episodes to your computer automatically.
Once you've subscribed to a few podcasts, you'll see them downloading in your personal podcast library. On the left you'll see little triangles that you can toggle to view the episode list for a given podcast. By default, iTunes will only download the latest episode, but you can use the "Get" button next to each show's title to download extra episodes individually. The "Get all" button downloads all of the podcast's available episodes to your library in one hit.
The "Subscribe" buttons next to the "Crave, Soup" and "Tekzilla" podcasts in this example indicate podcast feeds that have either expired (because we neglected to watch them) or were manually unsubscribed from. Pressing the Subscribe button instantly renews the subscription.
On the bottom edge of the iTunes podcast library you'll find all sorts of useful buttons. The Unsubscribe button on the left cancels individual podcast subscriptions.
A Refresh button on the right side manually checks for new podcast episodes to download. Next to that you've got a quick link to the iTunes podcast directory, which is useful when you get the itch to add some extra subscriptions to your library.
Finally, the Settings button helps you dial in your subscription preferences.
Clicking on the Settings button in your podcast library takes you to a pop-up box with subscription preferences. Here you can specify when iTunes should check for new podcast episodes, how many recent episodes it should download, and how many episodes to keep on hand.
By unchecking the box marked "Use Default Settings" you can assign unique settings for individual podcasts. This comes in handy for reigning in lengthy downloads of multiple video podcasts, or for telling iTunes to keep all the episodes of your favorite podcast.
As one of the largest repositories of podcasts on the Web, there aren't a whole lot of podcasts you won't find on iTunes. That said, you can add podcast feeds to iTunes manually if you need to. To do this, first copy the URL for the podcast feed you want to add.