Years ago here in the States, a company called Folgers aired TV commercials in which they replaced the coffee in fine restaurants with Folger’s Crystals, an instant coffee. The premise was the product was so good, patrons wouldn’t know the difference. I’m sure the advertising campaign was a boon to Folgers as years later you will once in awhile hear someone say about secretly replacing something with Folger’s Crystals.
For years Linux advocates have been promoting the use of Linux in the hamshack, often bragging how their shacks are 100% “Windows free.” As I have mentioned in past blog articles, I’ve attempted several times over the past eight or more years to migrate totally to Linux in the shack and have been unsuccessful each time. I’m no dummy when it comes to Linux. I have used it since 1995 when nearly all tasks were done in the bash shell and XWindows was a cumbersome novelty that was difficult to configure and was scorned by many. Being able to copy and paste something from one app to another or configure something by right-clicking it was a luxury light years away.
Each time I get involved in these discussions about Linux in the shack (the most recent on QRP-L.org), several people will say that Linux does have enough amateur radio applications to replace Windows. But there’s a caveat that none of these evangelists seem to grasp: the functionality of Linux logging and contesting applications doesn’t come close to Windows counterparts. I often use three applications as the “yardsticks” by which Linux logging and contest applications should be measured against: Ham Radio Deluxe, DXLab, and N1MM. These are all free programs so there can’t be any debate about evil corporations making a profit developing the software. The self-proclaimed “world’s best Linux logging program”, CQRLog, is a fine program with a very clean interface that does basic logging, award tracking, and rig control. It’s a great program if that’s all you want to do, but it’s not an equivalent to HRD or DXLab. On the contesting front, I don’t know of any Linux program that comes close to what N1MM does. Quite simply, if one intends on using Linux exclusively in the hamshack they have to lower their expectations and requirements for logging and are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to contesting.
Digital aficionados are in luck, however. Fldigi is a wonderful multi-protocol digital modem program that is as good as or even better than Windows digital modem programs. Unfortunately the arcaneness of the Linux sound system can cause much heartache and sorrow, but the program itself is superb.
Frequently in these discussions the instability of Windows will be mentioned. If one believed all of the rants about how bad Windows is, one would think a Windows box with an uptime of several hours is a rare thing and Windows machines are plagued with thousands of viruses a day and running anything beyond Solitaire is an exercise in torture. Patching and updating is an endless treadmill requiring hours of attention each week. I’m not sure where this view comes from, but desktop Windows has been quite stable since XP and reasonably maintained Windows servers can be expected to run for years with few problems.
Replacing restaurant coffee with Folger’s Crystals fooled restaurant patrons because it actually had the same taste, appearance, and aroma of restaurant coffee. Linux ham applications right now can replace Windows digital modem functionality, but those wanting a full-bodied cup of logging or contesting applications are out of luck. I wish Linux amateur radio advocates would realize that not everyone is willing to live with limited functionality in order to use a non-Windows operating system. Linux may be a viable alternative operating system, but the current crop of amateur radio applications are not slam-dunk alternatives to Windows applications like some claim.