Receive podcasts from RSS feeds using Outlook 2007

Staying on top of technical information helps IT pros stay ahead of the next crisis. One efficient way of receiving that information is through podcasts delivered via RSS feed directly to your Outlook 2007 inbox. Mark Kaelin walks you through the setup process.

For most IT professionals, there is no such thing as too much technical knowledge. To keep ahead in information technology, one has to continually train, learn, and grow. The podcast can be an efficient delivery method for such technical information, especially if that information arrives in your Outlook 2007 inbox.

This article is also available as a PDF download.

Set up

One of Outlook 2007's better features and one that separates it from previous Outlook versions, is the built-in RSS feed aggregator. While many good third-party RSS readers exist, receiving the feeds in Outlook eliminates the need to run and maintain a separate application. Setting up Outlook to receive RSS feeds is a little convoluted, so follow closely.

The RSS Folder is part of the default install of Outlook 2007. If you right-click on that folder you will get the helpful information shown in Figure A.

Figure A

So that's what an RSS feed is...
If you are interested in one of the Microsoft text feeds, you just need to click the link on this page and it will give you the option to subscribe to the RSS feed (Figure B).

Figure B

Outlook RSS feed

While you might enjoy the Microsoft product information feeds, it is likely that you will want a little variety. Adding other feeds to Outlook 2007 requires that you enter a specific URL. These URLs differ depending on what RSS software a particular feed uses, but in general, the URL references XML for the specific feed. To find podcast URLs, it is best to go to the original source -- iTunes.

The concept of the podcast is really a product of the ITunes/iPod era, and just about every podcast worth the time of day can be found there. Two nice things about iTunes: You don't have to register with iTunes to see its extensive podcast directory and most of the podcasts are free (Figure C).

Figure C

Podcasts galore
Of course, once you find a podcast in the iTunes directory, your official option is to subscribe to the feed within the iTunes client. While that will work, we want our feeds to arrive in Outlook 2007. To make that a reality, we have to find the RSS feed URL. For example, let's say we want to subscribe to ZDNet: ThreatCast (Figure D).

Figure D

ZDNet: ThreatCast on iTunes

From iTunes, we would click on the Web site link to reach ZDNet and find the RSS Feed URL for podcasts. Ideally, the link in iTunes will lead you to the page where that link can be found, but sometimes you have to do a little searching. On ZDNet, the actual podcast links are located under the Podcast tab.

The subscription link page is going to be slightly different depending on the site you are visiting, but in general you are looking for the universal RSS feed icon (Figure E).

Figure E

Look for the appropriate icon.

(NOTE: CNET uses Feedburner for its RSS feeds, which Outlook is not designed to handle. Outlook is looking for XML.)

Clicking View Feed XML on the ZDNet Web page changes the URL so that it has an XML extension. The URL of this page is what we are looking for:
Copy that link to the Windows Clipboard and return to Outlook 2007. Right-click the RSS Feeds folder and navigate to the Add A New RSS Feed menu item to reach the screen shown in Figure F.

Figure F

Add a feed.
Just paste in the URL link and click Add. Office 2007 will ask for confirmation and give you the opportunity to make Advanced changes (Figure G).

Figure G

Advanced changes

You'll notice that one of the advanced features is Automatically Download Enclosures For This Feed. Some podcast files can be large, and it is probably not a good idea to check this box, especially if you are in a corporate environment. Your Exchange Server administrator is sure to notice numerous megabyte-plus downloads and might frown upon the increased activity.

Leaving that box unchecked will restrict the RSS feed to just the description and a link to the podcast file. To add the RSS feed, click OK and then click Yes.

Depending on the feed, Outlook will load a list of podcast descriptions in the RSS Feeds folder that appear much like an e-mail. To listen to a particular podcast, click the Enclosure link within the description body (Figure H). The podcast will play in your MP3 media player of choice.

Depending on the sophistication of the podcast, the RSS Feed will often contain show notes and links that enhance the audio portion of the feed.

Figure H

Play the enclosure to listen to the podcast.

Finding feeds

Once you have the process down for getting RSS Feeds into Outlook 2007, the next hurdle is where to find feeds. Obviously, iTunes has thousands, but the search in iTunes can be a little scattershot. A simple search on Google reveals numerous resources for finding podcasts, and Podcast Alley is a good place to go for podcasts focused on specific subjects.

Remember, the key to finding RSS feeds for Outlook 2007 is to look for the XML icon.

Here are some additional Web sites where you can get RSS feeds and other podcast receivers, if you want them: