I’ve just released the first episode of a podcast I’ve stared to do for the Irish Federation of Astronomical Societies (IFAS) and thought I’d share some of my experiences in making it. First thing to note is that I had zero experience in anything audio related on computers apart from listening to stuff. Hence, I think it is fair to consider myself a total newbie at this stuff and you should judge the result based on that! I also decided to do a little experiment. Apple have a name for making really intuitive software that lets you do really powerful things with no training and a minimal learning curve, basically their apps are supposed to be a usability dream. So, could a complete noob like me, having never used iLife (or any audio software of any kind for that matter), manage to make a podcast and publish it in reasonable time and to a reasonable standard? You can judge the results for yourself here: www.minds.nuim.ie/~ifas/podcast/

Lets start by setting the scene, the machine I did this on was a first generation G4 Mac Mini (1.42GHz and 1GB RAM) running OS X 10.4.5. This machine pre-dates the whole iLife thing so although I had some of the apps that are now bundled as iLife they were old versions and I didn’t have iWeb at all. As I mentioned before the first generation Mac Mini’s don’t actually have an audio in port so I would have to spend some money before I could go anywhere. The following are the things I bought and connected/installed before I started:

  1. Trust Headset (www.komplett.ie/k/ki.asp?sku=108145)
  2. iMic (www.griffintechnology.com/products/imic2/)
  3. iLife 06 (www.apple.com/ilife/)

So, with my shopping all done I’d spent about 140 Euro and for that I had a mic to record with, a way of connecting my mic to my Mac Mini via USB, and the software to record, edit and publish my Podcast. The question is, now that I had everything I needed, how easy would I actually find it to produce something decent?

Recording the Audio

The hardest part of this was to get over feeling like a complete idiot sitting in my room by myself talking out loud to my computer! I used the Podcast Studio in GarageBand to do the recording and I have to say it was trivially simple to use. I had the hang of it and was recording away in literally a few minutes. Initially I did the entire podcast as one recording in one go but when I played it back I realised that I’d made a mess of some bits and left out some important things I should have said in the middle etc so then it was time to start really using the software and breaking my big long track up into bits, naming them, deleting the bits I messed up, re-recording bits and then splicing it all together. I even got a 5 minute piece contributed by someone else that I now also had to include. This is the hard stuff so how did I find Garage Band for that? TBH I found it excellent. I had it all nailed in no time at all and in no more than 2 hours work I’d gone from nothing to a fully edited 23 minute podcast that was ready to go out into the big bad world.

Exporting the Audio Out of Garage Band

This is where things got a bit more interesting. In theory I should just go to the Share menu and select Send Podcast to iWeb and it should just happen. Well it did, kinda, but not perfectly. Firstly, because my Mac Mini is not exactly a PowerMac it took an annoyingly long time to first merge the various tracks in my podcast down to a single master track and then transcode this track into a format for publishing. This is not really a big deal. Had I started it and then gone and gotten myself a cup of tea, it would have been done well before I got back, but since I was sitting there watching it I found it annoyingly slow. The second problem however is a much more serious one. GarageBand will not export a podcast in MP3 format, it insists on using AAC. This is fine for iTunes users and users of some other players but is a serious problem for users of WinAmp and other free players. Since I have a real issue with people forcing me to use certain software for things when there is a perfectly good open alternative I just couldn’t go ahead and publish my podcast as AAC only. I go mad at people who mail me Word documents instead of PDFs, just think of how much of a hypocrite I’d be if I started going round publishing just AAC files and telling everyone go get iTunes! So, using iTunes (somewhat ironically) I converted the AAC file to an MP3. The MP3 file was smaller but I have to say I noticed a difference in Quality between the AAC and the MP3 so I decided I would publish both and have two RSS feeds for my podcast, an AAC one and an MP3 one.

Publishing my Podcast

So, I had now exported my podcast to iWeb for publishing, how did I find that? TBH I found iWeb immensely easy to use. It did all the hard stuff automatically and generated a nice, clean looking page that works well and looks good and it did all that in literally a few minutes. It even let me add in the second feed with minimal efford. Right up to the point I went to actually publish to the web I was absolutely delighted with iWeb.

The publishing though is where I got grumpy with iWeb. If you forked out on a pointless .mac account it would publish straight to the web for you but if you haven’t it won’t. This annoyed me because, firstly, FTP and SFTP are hardly difficult things to incorporate into your web software and secondly, considering .mac uses WebDAV, not letting you publish to your own WebDAV server is even more ridiculous. Basically iWeb is actively trying to pressure users into getting a .mac account and IMO that is just not acceptable behavior from software that you have BOUGHT! The fact that iWeb will not publish directly over anything but .mac is a real black mark against it in my book. Having said that it was not that big a deal to publish it really. All you do is tell iWeb to publish to a folder on your hard drive and then upload that folder to your server with what ever software you like.


At no point did the software make me feel stupid and at no point did it confuse or scare me. It worked and it worked well, so, from a usability standpoint I’d give it full marks. However, iLife did two things to annoy me and they are very symptomatic of Apple’s obsession with trying to get everyone to use their software and nothing else. Honestly, there are some things Apple could teach MicroSoft about railroading people into a particular piece of software! Anyhow, I digress, the things that annoyed me were GarageBand’s refusal to export as anything but AAC and iWeb’s refusal to publish directly to anything but .mac. All in all though I’m very happy and feel that the software deserves it’s reputation for being easy to use and powerful because it really is both. Bottom line is that I consider iLife to be excellent value for money and would recommend it to anyone interested in starting to play with podcasting and multimedia in general.