Thursday, December 26, 2013

Linux in the ham shack

Linux and the Ham radio operator.

Being a ham radio operator over the years has been a rich rewarding experience for me. Not only have I had the chance to work stations from all over the world using Morse code, PSK31 and RTTY, but I have made a lot of great friends and learned more than I ever wanted to know about electronics. I currently run a lot of older post WWII era tube radio equipment, using separate transmitters and receivers. I also have a computer in the ham radio shack that runs Linux, an alternate operating system to Windows.

What is Linux.

The Linux operating system has many different distributions, which can make it very confusing for the NEWBIE (Person new to Linux), but to me it fits right in with the ham radio spirit and ideology that comes with Amateur Radio. You can make Linux do what you need, and it does it well. Their is a learning curve to Linux, so do not expect to be able to just install it and go. Learning is required to use Linux. You HAVE to learn, just like you do with a ham radio license. That is the same reason why I run tube radio gear. You can't just plug it in, hook up an antenna and start transmitting. Their are a lot of steps required to use tube radios. You can expect the same with Linux.

The Linux distrubution that I run in the ham shack is Debian. Debian offers the best software repositories available, including lot's of ham radio related programs. To me, Linux is the operating system of choice as a ham radio operator. I like being able to learn the in's and out's of the OS and the ability to make changes as needed. I like not being tied into a Windows monopoly and paying extra if I want to make my home computer secure. I like being able to customize my OS to suit a particular need, and have a multitude of Desktop environments to choose from.

What do I get with Linux.

With Linux, you learn just HOW your computer works. This is not a question of "Maybe you will learn something", but more of a question of "how much will you learn". You will learn how the computer boot process works, how the computer talks to your hard drive, looks for files, writes to memory and exactly what is happening. You can start off with a full blown Desktop Environment like KDE of Gnome which are largely point and click and go from their to smaller Desktops like LXDE, Fluxbox or XFCE4.
 With Linux i can surf the web, keep my log book of contacts, check the dx cluster for exotic stations and all other ham radio related chores. I can also have a keyer and logger that I can use for contesting,  and software to send receive PSK-31, RTTY and all of the newer digital modes. If I want to follow along with the W1AW broadcast bulletins I can use software to decode it and read along as I work, to keep up on the latest information.

Andy's live Linux CD for ham radio operators

If you are interested in Linux but do not want to install on your hard drive just yet, you can try a live CD like Andy's LIve Linux CD which includes all the software you will ever need, for every mode that may interest you on a live CD that runs in memory. It does not install anything on your hard drive. It requires just 512kb of memory and 1G proccesor as a bare minimum to run, and some software may be a bit sluggish at those specs. If you have an old laptop sitting around gathering dust with a CD rom drive, why not give Andy's live Linux CD a try today, and experience the power of Linux.