Users can subscribe for free.

Add Apple Computer to the rapidly growing list of media companies to embrace the podcast. As anticipated, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company has added podcasting support to the latest version of iTunes.

The software will aggregate more than 3,000 podcasts, which users may subscribe to for free. New episodes will be updated automatically and made available for download to an iPod, and preference settings in iTunes will manage downloaded podcasts.

"We're making it really easy to find what you're interested in," says Eddie Cue, VP of applications for Apple. "And easy to subscribe and listen. We think we're really taking podcasting mainstream."

Among the podcasts bundled with iTunes will be offerings from media conglomerates such as ABC News, BBC, Clear Channel, Disney and NPR, but also programs that rose to prominence in the podcasting world, such as former MTV VJ Adam Curry's mix of music and chat, The Daily Source Code, and the Dawn and Drew Show, self-described as "married best buddies podcasting from the living room of their 1865 farm house."

One of the podcasts available is an Apple-produced show called iTunes New Music Tuesday. Like the e-mail blast it sends to iTunes users, the new podcast will highlight new releases, featuring 30-second clips of each song.

Most podcasts, however, do not feature music. Even as the year-old phenomenon has exploded -- Forrester Research estimates there will be more than 300,000 podcasts by year's end -- music publishers continue to try to find a workable licensing scheme. Licensing for a podcast is daunting, because reproducing copyrighted music, playing it for the public, and distributing it via download all trigger a right and a revenue source for creators.

The podcasters that do include music -- legally, anyway -- generally feature unsigned acts or artists who own the rights to their music. Cue said Apple's podcast directory includes shows created by several indie labels who will use the format to promote their acts.

In other Apple news, the company revealed it has merged its iPod and iPod Photo product lines into a single category. Going forward, all new iPods will feature color screens and have the ability to store and display photos. The 30-gigabyte iPod line will be eliminated as part of the transition.

-- additional reporting by Brian Garrity, N.Y.