Friday, January 13, 2012

Ham Radio Software Meets Windows 7

Despite knowing the perils of attempting to use ham radio software with anything newer than XP, I continued in my resolve to enter the modern age with an operating system that has some hope of support after next year.   Since SDRs tend to like all the processor and memory you can throw at them, I loaded up on plenty of both, requiring the dreaded 64-bit operating system.

Dreaded because most ham shareware never heard of it.

After two weeks, results have emerged.  Here we go:

Programs that work with 64 bit Windows 7 (your mileage WILL vary):

FLdigi - No problems so far.

JVComm32 - Works fine; it's going right now.  Complains bitterly about my font sizes, but since I'm using a 1950x1200 graphic arts monitor, it'll just have to understand show biz.

MultiPSK - so far no problems except the need to personally communicate with the programmer to give him his well deserved money.  (And that issue is platform-independent :-) . )  It stopped complaining about the font size when I went to Properties > Compatibility and checked the part about "Disable display settings on high DPI."

PC-HFDL - No problems AT ALL.

Posfix - No problems AT ALL.

Spectran: So far, works perfectly, despite Windows declaring it incompatible.  There was some strange issue with its installer, which is really more like an unpacker.  No matter how bitterly Windows complains, it can be unpacked to anywhere, and moved by hand to an appropriate folder you create under Programs (x86).  There are no registry issues.  The program barely even wastes time on MickeySoft's new sound drivers (more on that later).

TrueTTY/SeaTTY - so far no problems.

Programs that do not work (at least here):

PC-ALE & MARS-ALE - the UI functions properly but it can't seem to find the right sound input.  Only noise displays in the box on the upper left.  Using the virtual machine and "XP mode" does not seem to help.  Also, scanning on many rigs requires a USB to serial adapter, and the older ones don't work on 64 bit W7, which has no driver for them.

Spectrum Lab - it's too bad that this state of the art package was never updated to post-Vista operating systems.  It's fine to declare yourself an XP holdout, and even brag about how much better it is, and in the case of ham radio you are undoubtedly right.  Back in the real world, it's important to keep up with technology.

Programs that work with some fiddling:

DSCdecoder - I think I finally have this one as happy as it's ever going to get.  It's running in compatibility mode, and everything works except the ITU lookup.  The issue with that is mysterious, and it may relate to the font sizes.  Clicking the MMSI does indeed go to ITU and grab the information, as can be seen by picking through the file named ituresponse.txt that gets written to the program's directory. However, it never makes it onto the UI, or into the master lookup database file shipid.txt.

More on the W7 sound card issue:

The problem is that, from what I can find online, MickeySoft has made it harder, if not impossible, to record from streams. This is undoubtedly a concession to the music industry, which is concerned about copyright.  Every sound card driver is different, but in my case, both the on-board and external sound had Stereo Mix and/or What U Hear missing.

In addition, the external sound card, a venerable Creative Live! they stopped supporting years ago,  did not work well.  It was prone to pops and crackles, and the sound was poor.  The driver available at Creative Labs was a legacy product, and did nothing to solve the problem.  I'll stay with the on-board sound, which is fine in all specs except signal to noise, until I feel like popping for a decent external card.

There is a hack to get Stereo Mix back on some of the sound drivers, at least for the Realtek driver on the Asus motherboard. This is documented all over the Internet, and it works.  It involves going to a certain place in the config, finding Stereo Mix and unblocking it.  However, my Stereo Mix still wouldn't do the right kind of loopback for legally recording and/or decoding audio from remote SDRs and radios.

(Psssst... Spectran, which ignores the sound board nonsense, will listen to Stereo Mix just fine on my box.  AND it records.  AND it's free.  Don't tell RIAA.)

Happy computing......