While Windows Phone 8 is the only Microsoft platform to formally support podcasts, things have changed a bit since Windows Phone 7.x. And as you’re about to discover, where Microsoft giveth, Microsoft also taketh away.

If you’re a fan of podcasts—I participate in two every week, by the way, What The Tech with Andrew Zarian and Windows Weekly with Leo Laporte and Mary Jo Foley—you’ll be understandably confused by how this Internet content can be consumed by Windows Phone 8. In Windows Phone 7.x, things were easy. You could subscribe to podcasts using the Zune PC software and sync the content to your devices for on-the-go usage. Or, with Windows Phone 7.5, you could access podcasts over the air … if you lived in the United States.

In Windows Phone 8, well. Things are different.

You can still access podcasts directly from the device, and the article Windows Phone Tip: Access Podcasts Over the Air still very much applies to Windows Phone 8. In fact, it works identically. (Note; I originally wrote that over-the-air podcasts support had been opened up to far more markets with Windows Phone 8, but that is apparently not the case.)

What you can’t do is subscribe to podcasts with Zune and then sync that content to a Windows Phone 8 handset. Zune doesn’t “see” these newer devices and thus can’t sync.

There’s a sort-of workaround here that I don’t recommend. Because Zune saves podcasts to a Podcasts library, the new Windows Phone desktop application can actually find them when it’s configured to “sync music, videos, and more from Windows Libraries.” The problem is that the Windows Phone application doesn’t understand podcasts as podcasts; it lumps them in with music.

This approach isn’t ideal, and some podcasts don’t appear correctly in the Windows Phone application. (The “Unknown artist” you can see in the shot above is a podcast, for example.) But the podcasts I’ve synced this way do show up in Podcasts on Windows Phone 8, not in Music. So it does work.

But there is a better solution. And if you’re a Windows Phone user, chances are you may not like it. But bear with me: This is in fact the best way to access the widest possible podcast selection using Windows Phone. (And the preferred way if over-the-air isn’t an option for you.)

You need to use iTunes.

I know, it sounds crazy. But when you subscribe to podcasts in iTunes, you get access to a much bigger and more frequently updated podcast library than what Microsoft offers. And then you can configure that Windows Phone application to “sync music, videos, and more from iTunes,” instead of libraries. And when you do, voila, you get native access to the podcasts to which you subscribe.

Windows Weekly on Windows Phone 8, synced through iTunes:

I know, I know. You hate iTunes. I do too, it’s terrible. I get it. But this really does work, and if you can’t get what you need over the air, it’s pretty much the best choice.

Unless of course you’re using Windows RT: Like all external desktop applications, iTunes isn’t compatible, sorry. (Neither is Zune, for that matter.)

Update: I’m embarrassed that I forgot to mention a fourth option. You can also use third party podcast apps on the phone. One I’ve used in the past is SlapDash Podcasts. There’s a Windows 8/Metro version available as well, and it stores your podcast subscriptions in the cloud. Thanks to Andy H. for the tip.