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Feature: Reviews

gPodder's no plodder when it comes to podcasts

By Kurt Edelbrock on June 17, 2008 (4:00:00 PM)

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Catch all of your podcasts in style with gPodder, a Python application designed to retrieve and organize your podcasts for easy playback.

gPodder can handle both RSS 2.0 and Atom podcast feeds. As soon as you add episodes to the podcatcher, the application can download them using a few different protocols, including authenticated HTTP (for feeds that require a password) and BitTorrent. BitTorrent is especially nice for popular podcasts that have a lot of subscribers and large episodes, because you can use it to download from multiple sources, called seeds, and speed up your downloads.

If you are subscribed to a lot of podcasts, you may not want episode downloads to use up all of your bandwidth and slow down higher-priority activities. Built-in rate limit controls help users address this concern through download speed limits and a control on the number of concurrent transfers.

gPodder notifies you when downloads finish. If the server where an episode is stored supports it, you can resume interrupted or unfinished downloads from where they left off. The application also includes a system tray icon, so it is easy to leave it running all the time to catch updated feeds.

As you accumulate a growing number of episodes, gPodder can delete files you have already played on a scheduled basis. For instance, you can delete played episodes on startup every six days, or at any interval you choose. You can see which episodes have been played, as well as whether they have been downloaded or deleted, based on the icon that appear next to each episode. A search feature allows you to quickly locate episodes.

gPodder lets you import and export podcast data from and to an Outline Processor Markup Language (OPML) file. This is great for sharing podcast lists with friends, backing up channels, or moving your collection to a new computer.

The application uses an external media player on your computer to handle episode playback. While this means you need another application, such as Audacious, Rhythmbox, or VLC, it also means you don't need to worry about codec support in gPodder.

Listening to a podcast on your laptop or desktop may not always be the easiest way to play new episodes. Sometimes, it's better to listen on the way to work, in the car, or while exercising. gPodder includes full support for portable devices, including iPods. You can also beam episodes to your phone or PDA with the built-in Bluetooth support. There is also a client available for the Nokia Internet Tablet, via the Maemo platform, which allows you to install gPodder on a tablet and download podcasts directly to the device.

The major downside with gPodder is the lack of a robust integrated podcast directory, similar to the one found in iTunes. With the way the application currently functions, users have to open a Web browser to find a feed address, and then insert it into the application. It would be much easier to have a list of available feeds within the application interface that could be sorted and categorized by different criteria and search strings. While gPodder does offer a small repository (currently six channels), it isn't enough for people with interests that range a bit further than Linux and free and open source software.

Thankfully, gPodder does provide support for a directory through the use of OPML files. Paste the URL of a third-party OPML file into the Web directory box in the Preferences dialog, and you can get access to a potentially huge amount of podcasts. But, it would be nice to get that kind of access without having to search the Web for OPML files.

There are plenty of other podcast applications available for Linux, including some integrated solutions that come preinstalled with most distributions. Rhytymbox, the default media player for GNOME, includes podcast support built into its media library, but it lacks some of the more advanced features found in gPodder. For instance, users can't control the download speeds and rate limits of episode downloads, and there isn't a mechanism for automatically removing old episodes. Yet, Rhythmbox can play episodes in the same application, and will easily sync episodes with a mobile device. Amarok, the media player for KDE, can limit the number of episodes downloaded, but it, like Rhythmbox, doesn't provide support for BitTorrent or for importing and exporting OPML files.

gPodder is a great application that is best for users who want to manage and control their podcasts, or who need to access episodes using the BitTorrent protocol. You can use it to extend the functionality of Rhythmbox and Amarok, back up your feeds, and share channels with friends, all without hassle.

Kurt Edelbrock is a technology journalist, blogger, and university student. He writes for a variety of open source publications, and serves as a technical consultant for a large public university.

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