The OU produces a range of podcasts covering a wide variety of subjects that can be interesting not only to current students but also to people who enjoy more informal learning, or who are maybe just curious about a subject. Up until recently, this treasure trove was sadly locked away in iTunesU and so unavailable to Linux users (as iTunes is not available for Linux). Users of other platforms also had to use iTunesU as well, regardless of how they felt about this software. Fortunately, the OU has put this situation right though the release of a website that makes these podcasts available to all, it can be found at: http://podcast.open.ac.uk. The website is so new the paint is practically drying on it, but, despite being in beta, it is still capable of delivering a first class experience. It includes a number of ways to easily subscribe to podcasts, including RSS feeds (useful for programs like Amarok), a really great feature though is the sites ability to integrate with Miro, an application which is described as an "internet tv and video player". Miro is free, open source, cross platform and provides the ability to subscribe to, watch and manage video and audio podcast feeds. You can use the OU podcasts site entirely within it, providing a nice integrated experience and leaving you to enjoy the content.
Getting up and running with OU podcasts is relatively straightforward. The first thing to do is grab a copy and install it. Follow the instructions on the Miro download page for your platform. Now launch Miro. The OU podcasts site includes a large number of podcasts, which will probably expand, of course you will probably just want to subscribe to a selection. An advantage with Miro is that you can subscribe to podcasts from a number of sources and it will manage them all for you in one place, without you needing to revisit these sites. When you start up Miro, you get access to a channel guide that shows you a number of podcasts from various sources that you can subscribe to, effectively the OU podcasts homepage does the same job, giving you a way to browse for content and subscribe to it. Fortunately, Miro has a feature where you can add different channel guides and easily navigate between them. To make the OU podcasts site available as a channel guide go to:
Channels -> New Channel Guide Sidebar -> Add Site, you will see a box asking "Enter the URL of the Miro guide site to add", here enter: http://podcast.open.ac.uk. Click "Ok" and let the guide load, then close Miro and reopen it (I found if I didn't do this the one click subscribe didn't work).
After restarting Miro, you will see that you can switch between the Miro programme guide and the OU Podcasts program guide by clicking on the icons for these entries in the top left of the application. When you click on your new entry, you will see the OU podcasts website, but this time inside Miro. Now you can navigate to a podcast that interests you. To subscribe, look at the right hand side of the podcast entry, you will see a line saying Subscribe: RSS | iTunes | Miro, click on Miro and then the program will pick up the link and add it to the subscribed podcasts that can be seen on the left hand side. If you click on this new entry on the left you will see the episodes available. By default, Miro will download the latest episode, and automatically download new episodes going forward, but if you want to download a previous episode, just click the icon for the episode that interests you.
Miro is primarily designed for video, but has no problems dealing with audio podcasts, which means that it can be used to bring you a powerful, but easy to use, integrated experience of OU podcasting.
*** UPDATE 10th February 2009 ***
Miro has just been updated to version 2. and has a fresh new look and a new channel guide. The instructions above will still work, but instead of adding a new channel you can add the OU Podcasts site by selecting Sidebar -> Add Site. This blog post was written for the previous version and text crossed out related to that version.