Monday, October 12, 2009

SDR Deluxe

A new post in Dominic, M1KTA's blog about the SoftRock he built for Ham Radio Deluxe author Simon Brown, HB9DRV, provides a link to Simon's latest software project, SDR-RADIO.com.

In one of the last posts he made before leaving the Elecraft reflector, Simon mentioned that his new ambition was to create the world's best software defined radio interface, and that is clearly what SDR-Radio is intended to be. It's certainly a vast improvement over the button-encrusted interface of Power SDR, and could even tempt SDR sceptics like me. But no matter how gorgeous Simon's interface I still have some major reservations to overcome before I could allow a black box and a computer program to replace my K3.

The first, knowing Simon's opinion of Linux is that this new program of his is going to be Windows-only. I hate being tied into Microsoft's proprietary operating system with its high cost, bloat, endless update hassles and contempt for backwards compatibility. Sure, I'm using Windows XP on my shack PC (and my netbook) now, because I found that many of the best programs I needed were available on Windows only. But SDR-Radio is just going to perpetuate this Microsoft indispensability. I develop KComm for Windows and Linux precisely so I have the option to try Linux again and still be able to use it. I just wish more ham radio developers would use cross-platform tools and make their source code open so that, even if they didn't want to make a Linux version themselves, the possibility exists for someone else to do it.

My second reservation is about using software defined radios. For me, the look and feel of radios with their knobs and buttons is one of the pleasures of playing with radio. Interacting with a computer screen, which an increasing number of us spend a large part of our working lives doing already, is not in itself pleasurable. I think our eyes, fingers and mouse arms need a change of activity now and again.

My third reservation concerns the inscrutability of software defined radio, and how it takes away some of the accomplishment of amateur communication. The reason why I, despite owning a K3, still enjoy making contacts with simple QRP radios is that to fully experience the magic of radio communication you need to understand exactly how your voice or your key depressions get from your shack to the other operator. The more hardware or software that you can't design, build, tweak or even comprehend is involved, the more like using a mobile phone or the internet it becomes and the less it is ham radio.

Using SDR is only a true amateur accomplishment if you can build the hardware and write or at least understand the software. And for most of us who lack the skills of Simon Brown, that's an impossibility.
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