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Unlocking Podcast Producer v2

Volume Number: 25
Issue Number: 10
Column Tag: Podcasting

Unlocking Podcast Producer v2

by Michele (Mike) Hjörleifsson

Part One: What is Podcast Producer?

A podcast by any other name like vidcast, screencast, audiocast, doc-cast, and so on is still a podcast; well, at least for the context of this series of articles and from Snow Leopard server's point of view. Podcast producer, simply put, does for podcast production and distribution what the bread maker has done for homemakers around the globe— simplified the tedium so the cook can focus on the content. This series of articles introduces you to Podcast Producer, its history, potential uses, and strengths, and includes some practical use scenarios and how-to's.

Processing podcasts for consumption can be a tedious process from the initial content creation to the transcoding for desktop, iPod, iPhone, audio only, HD and transcribed formats. Delivery is no small task either, posting to blogs, creating RSS/Atom, sending to a digital archive, posting to iTunes, posting to a website or Sharepoint site and so on more tedium. As you can see in the following figure there are a lot of wheels that need to turn to grind that wheat into usable flour.


Podcast Producer version 1 is part of Leopard server. Like XGrid and WebObjects, it is an under-discussed, under-promoted useful (and cool) piece of technology. Using Podcast Producer in Leopard Server, administrators work with the content producers to create a recipe, called a workflow, which is a bundle of XML files, associated media and resources that determine the processing of the content, the notification facilities to be used, archival (if necessary) and distribution to a wiki/blog, QuickTime Streaming or iTunes. Once created, the same workflow provides an automated engine to process and distribute content into a podcast. How wonderful— a collection of software and services that do what computers were originally designed to do: remove repetitive tedious tasks. Well, maybe not so wonderful. As anyone who deployed Podcast Producer version 1 will tell you, it takes a bit of knowledge of Kerberos, Xgrid and XML to get the service humming. But, once in place it is a wonderful toolbox. The most tedious part of the getting your Podcast Producer infrastructure going is editing the XML files that outline your recipe (the processes and dependencies applied to your content). Though, not much fun but there is a bright light on the horizon. Snow Leopard has a new version of Podcast Producer with some awesome tools and capabilities. Let's explore.

Podcast Producer version 2 is also a free service provided in Snow Leopard server and it has seen some significant enhancements. First, there is an assistant to establish the required configuration of the underlying services like Xgrid (and NFS to facilitate shared resources), Kerberos and the Podcast Producer service itself. Not to be left behind is the new Podcast Composer, my personal favorite. This Automator-like tool provides a graphical, intuitive way to create your podcast recipe. No more of those pesky XML files, at least not yet. But wait, there's more! (A little tribute to the late Billy Mays). The client software called Podcast Capture (which is included, you guessed it, free of charge, on every Snow Leopard client machine) can now perform simultaneous capture of screen and video with an iChat Theatre look and feel—polished and professional. There is an official web capture client to allow non-OS X users to become content producers as well (there was an unsupported web interface to the previous version that came, went, then came back). Newly baked into Podcast Producer are some integration bits with Final Cut Server, which provide things like approval and review workflows and the power of Final Cut Server's new metadata processing and automated tasks. Last, but certainly not least, (especially to the MacTech community) is the ability to call out to command line tools of your choosing so you can reach out and extend Podcast Producer to limitless potential scenarios. Included under the hood is a set of great command line tools to do some of the basics and more advanced functions like calling and creating Quartz Composer animations. Oh wait, did I mention that QuickTime Streaming server also got an overhaul? Although this is not directly related to Podcast Producer, I must tell you about the ability to produce a podcast that you can then stream to your iPhone, yes STREAM, not sync to your iPhone.

So what can we use this cool set of tools for? Ahh, glad you asked. First there are the traditional podcasts, like recording educational lectures at K-12 schools and universities for students, the general public, or both (there are hundreds of these for free download on iTunesU). That was a pretty obvious example but let's take a deeper look.

Problem: The economy is tight, you need to get corporate messaging and training out to your ten, hundred or thousand remote locations or retail presences.

Solution: Produce a podcast with your existing video conferencing gear (more on this later), a Mac or PC and send it to Podcast Producer for distribution to Apple TV units hooked to television at your remote locations.

Problem: You need to provide regulatory, mandated continuing education to your legal, medical or financial industry employees.

Solution: Develop a workflow that provides random codes as a watermark in your podcasts to ensure staff members actually watched the entire podcast.

Problem: You have a new national product launch and you need to get your field sales folks trained on the features, messaging and look-and-feel of the new gear.

Solution: Develop a workflow that encodes your podcast for streaming to their iPod Touch or iPhone devices and send them an email notification when it is ready.

Problem: You need to increase readership or web presence for your magazine newspaper, television or radio station.

Solution: Add deeper look podcasts that takes a corresponding article, episode or segment to the next level with multimedia.

Problem: You are an expert in a certain field and would like to provide "paid for content" to the public but you don't know a thing about processing media files for consumer production.

Solution: Work with an Apple Consultant to setup a Podcast Producer server to process your media and post it to a high end video management system like Status Firm's Core Nucleus, or freeware blogs with pay for content plug-ins such as Joomla or Drupal (we will explore an example with Joomla in an upcoming segment).

Problem: You are recording video testimonials about a terrible situation somewhere that may later be used in a court trial. How do you ensure the validity of the videos three, five or ten years from now so it's admissible as testimony by government standards?

Solution: Create a workflow that calls a script you created that digitally signs the video with a PKI certificate you have taken appropriate precautions to secure. (Refer to the set of articles on PKI that I authored for MacTech on how to generate these types of certificates.)

So there are six quick examples to get you thinking. The point here is that anytime you need to get information in the hands of folks that is better presented in multimedia format you will need to produce that content and deliver that content and that is where Podcast Producer comes in.

The three top features of Podcast Producer have nothing to do with the cool media processing it can do, at least not from your point of view as a technical Apple person.

Scalability: Utilizing Xgrid you can process thousands of pieces of inbound media into a plethora of formats in a predictable amount of time.

Extensibility: Podcast Composer allows you to call your own scripts, which allows you to literally do anything your powerful cerebral processor can crank out.

Interoperability: The web services provided by Podcast Producer allow you to utilize existing video conferencing gear like Tandberg's TCS content server to record content from any standards compliant video conferencing gear and ingest that media to your workflow. The web services also allow you to support non-Apple client devices to create and upload content, or even create your own web or even iPhone application to get content into Podcast Producer to slice, dice and deliver. Apple has extended Podcast Producer with the new web interface and integrated Final Cut Server allowing you to ingest content from the web and post content to Final Cut Server for processing, and approval workflows. Last but not least, interoperability allows you to take content and process it for delivery via QuickTime to your iPhone users.

So now that your head is spinning and gears are turning on all the things you would like to try out, let's get cracking. First, on your test Snow Leopard server make sure you have a standard install and created a test user account to play with. Click the servers name in Server Admin then click the Services tab. Select Podcast Producer and then click Save (see Figure 2).


This does NOT enable Podcast Producer; rather, it provides you with the settings panels to set up and then enable Podcast Producer. Click on the new Podcast Producer item on the left side of Server Admin. Then, click the Configure Podcast Producer button to get started (see Figure 3).


Accept the defaults and voila, you have a working Podcast Producer. For those of you who configured version 1 of Podcast Producer you should be basking in the ease of the new tools. Now let's go to a Snow Leopard client. Open the Applications->Utilities folder and then open Podcast Capture. Log on to your Podcast Producer server. Click Audio and then submit to one of the default workflows (see Figure 4).


Now let's take a look at the web client. Open Safari on your client machine and then connect to your server on port 8188 (i.e. http://myserver.local:8188), You can log on here and submit content to the same default workflows.

That's all there is to it. You are now up and running. I urge you to play with Podcast Composer on your server and see the plethora of options there are for creating workflows.

Next month we will explore the following: default workflows and how to secure them by setting permissions.; customizing the workflows with external scripts to really harness the power of Podcast Producer; extending Podcast Producer to provide content to Joomla. Thank you for spending the time with learning about the Podcast Producer. I hope you explore the technology and have as much fun with it as I have had.


Michele (Mike) Hjörleifsson has been programming Apple computers since the Apple ][+, and implementing network and remote access security technologies since the early '90s. He has worked with the nation's largest corporations and government institutions. Mike is currently a certified Apple trainer and independent consultant. Feel free to contact him at mhjorleifsson@me.com

 
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