The brouhaha du jour in amateur radio is the Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD) blacklisting scandal, for lack of a better term.  For those who haven’t read about this, you can get details over on Reddit here, here, and here.  The TLDR (Too Long Didn’t Read) version of this is that HRD has been blacklisting customers who wrote negative reviews of their software.  The blacklisting manifested itself as denied support or disabled software.  As if that wasn’t enough, there are nasty tweets, threats of lawsuits, other bad stories about customer support, and even an excuse that the lack of judgement was caused by a prime employee suffering from diabetes and misadjusted prescriptions.  I’m not going to rehash the whole drama as you can follow the various links to get the lowdown.  (The one ham site that goes by three letters has 60 pages and counting of crowdbashing, and for once, rightfully so).

While the HRD allegations are pretty heinous, this sort of bad behavior in the amateur radio software world isn’t new or unique.  I’ve experienced it from various individuals and camps. I encountered a freeware logging software forum with a toxic culture where people openly and privately ridiculed others seeking support, and the software author condoned the culture with his silence.  Another freeware software suite has an openly arrogant software creator, with an ego the size of the moon.  He claimed his development process was essentially infallible, despite his user interface having flaws that a novice software development student could easily identify.  A freeware contest logging development team refused to give me any assistance in the workings of a protocol their software supports.  I was told I should go buy a commercial device that supported the protocol rather than attempting to write code to emulate it, because the device was cheap and they didn’t support homebrew endeavors.

For some reason, too many amateur radio software authors think offering free software to the community affords them the privilege of being arrogant to users.  How this apparent culture was created within a company profiting financially from sale and support of software, like HRD, is puzzling.  However, the HRD story illustrates in spades the problem of “free-as-in-beer” software.  HRD was originally offered by its creator as freeware.  Several years ago the source code was purchased by a commercial interest and it’s been commercially licensed software ever since.  If the project would have been open sourced rather than sold, support and development of the product would not have been dependent on one entity.  While freeware authors appear to be benefitting the amateur radio community, in the long term their refusal to open source their creations is detrimental to amateur radio as the community is left with software that gets sold, unsupported, or at the mercy of the whims or incompetencies of a single party.

This article was originally posted on Radio Artisan.

Windows 8 Presents Opportunity

Brian Boyko, a freelance IT author, created this informational and rather entertaining video on Windows 8.

The video echos a lot of my experiences, albeit brief ones with Windows 8.  A few weeks ago I attempted to use a Windows 8 Surface tablet at a mall kiosk and left in frustration.  Last week while Christmas shopping I happened to venture into the computer section of a department store and played with a Windows 8 laptop.  After ten minutes of trying to make sense of the Metro interface, I again left in frustration.  I should mention I’m not a computer newbie. I’ve been using computers for over 30 years, and have worked with them in a professional capacity for over 20.  I used Linux before it was sexy and my first GUI based OS was Windows 3.1.  I’ve never owned a piece of Mac hardware (I have an iPad and an iPhone), but if you drop me in an Apple store and put me in front of a Mac, I can be web browsing, viewing pictures, and creating documents in moments.   I just can’t do it with Windows 8.

User interface changes are always stressful to end users.  The last major one Microsoft made was the ribbon bar in Microsoft Office replacing the venerable and admittedly long-in-the-tooth menu bar.  At first I hated it and customized all my Office applications to have the buttons I needed in the quick bar which sits up in the title bar.  Eventually I got used to the ribbon bar, but being a fan of minimalist interfaces I think the quick bar is much more efficient.  But, OK, I admit Microsoft was right with the ribbon bar and it’s a valid step in the evolution of user interfaces.

I won’t repeat everything in Boyko’s video, but he’s absolutely right on all points.  The Windows 8 Metro interface is a massive departure from the old interface.  The revolutionary change would be a good one if it was actually an improvement.  But similar to when Microsoft tried to put a desktop OS on a mobile device (Windows Mobile/CE), now they’re trying to shoehorn a mobile phone and tablet OS on to a PC, and it just doesn’t work.

This video goes into the desktop mode a bit more and shows the discontinuity between Metro and the desktop:

The changes in Windows 8 presents an opportunity for anyone who uses Windows, including amateur radio operators and software authors.  While Windows 8 has a compatibility mode that essentially lets you run legacy apps in a legacy pre-Windows 8 style desktop, it’s problematic.  If Microsoft doesn’t abandon Metro, they’re likely going to push application authors to the Metro interface, perhaps at some point even eliminating the legacy user interface.  With such a revolutionary change to this tool and its steep learning curve, it may be just as easy to migrate to Linux, Mac, or a Chromebook and learn something totally new that is actually going to be productive and useful.  With Windows 8, essentially Microsoft has increased the pain of upgrading to the point where it is equal or less pain to migrate to a different platform.  I suspect many people will horde old or bootleg copies of Windows 7 and XP, storing them away like a rare wine or expensive cigar, for use when getting a new piece of hardware.  It’s going to be interesting.