Software in Amateur “Packet Radio” Communications and Networking

Software in Amateur “Packet Radio” Communications and Networking

Miroslav Škorić
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5170-8.ch006
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In modern (amateur radio) wireless communications, we use computers. Depending on particular situations, such as employers’ and personal preferences, users can adopt more or less proprietary operating systems and related end-user programs. In emerging and developing societies, the usage of proprietary software can be costly. Not only that, contrary to so-called “open” software, the “closed” software is not able to motivate its users to upgrade those programs regularly, not only because of high prices and restricted licensing policies, but also because of its nature, which is the “closedness” of program codes, where the end-users are not allowed to change programmed software, and so assist companies in improving features of their software products. Therefore, the authors help prospective newcomers in the amateur wireless communications to become familiar with the “open” software and, as well, to encourage them in implementing many “free” software solutions at home or work.
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Most of the time, somebody of us spends money on purchasing new computer hardware. Regardless the type of consumers we are—individual citizens, or schools and companies where we study or work—ICT markets constantly push us and other prospective buyers into replacing our technical equipment in order to, among the others, adopt a newer operating system (OS), or user programs or computing procedures. Every so often, the new versions of our programs are no more capable to run on existing hardware. Even though our computing machines might not be obsolete enough so that they had to be replaced with brand new models, in many occasions software trends succeed initiating new purchases. For example, popular operating systems produced by Microsoft™ are well known as ‘hardware-hungry’ environments, which means that any new member of the Windows OS family requires better (read: newer generation of) computer hardware. But that is not all. Some producers of computer programs for Microsoft Windows operating systems do not preserve backward compatibilities with previous versions of that OS, hence the new program features often require installing newer versions of Windows that, in turn, requires new hardware, and so on. Sometimes the differences between various versions of an operating system and related end-user programs are so significant that it is not easy to recognize where the ‘upgrade’ actually is: Is it in the users program itself, or in a specific characteristics of an OS, or it is maybe in a new hardware specification. The final question might be: Is it all worth the upgrade and would not be better if a user could continue with his or her existing hardware and software solutions—without investments in new equipment and without having losses in productivity during periods of those mostly time-consuming upgrades. In the first part of this chapter we are going to elaborate recent advances in some amateur radio software for Microsoft-based ‘packet-radio’ node installations, where computer hardware and the operating system are seemingly going toward the end of their lifecycle (considered as a hardware + software combination). After that, we will discuss some feasible alternatives for non-Microsoft environments that, in turn, ensure the prolonged usage of the same hardware, and in addition to save the customers from spending money on purchasing new licenses for operating system upgrades.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Software: A group name for different kinds of computer programs. Widely spoken, the software includes: a) operating systems; b) ‘system software’, such as device drivers, basic configuration programs, etc.; and c) end-user programs (applications).

BBS: An electronic Bulletin Board System, a software that usually operates on a personal computer equipped with one or more amateur radio stations, Internet connections, and telephone lines (a “dial-up mailbox system”), to provide communication between remote users such as electronic mail, conferences, news, chat, file exchange, and database access.

Sysop: It is a short name for a system operator. That person runs and maintains an amateur radio BBS or a repeater. Some sources refer to the sysop as ‘system administrator’.

Node: In radio communications, a node (i.e. a repeater) is a device that amplifies or regenerates the signal in order to extend the distance of the transmission. Repeaters are available for both analog (voice) and digital (data) signals. ‘Digipeater is frequently used abbreviated name for a digital repeater.

Gateway: A gateway is a computer that connects two different networks together. The gateway will perform the protocol conversion necessary to go from one network to the other. For example, a gateway could connect a local area network (LAN) of computers in the school to the Internet. In that manner, an amateur radio BBS provides a gateway from the ‘air’ to the school's LAN, or vice versa.

SSID: A ‘Sub station identifier’ in the amateur radio jargon. That is a numbered suffix assigned to a callsign, for example within YT7MPB -1 , YT7MPB -2 , etc. The SSID uses to distinguish different occurrences of the same radio station (and/or its operator) in the ‘air’. For example, the suffix -1 can be used for a node, while the suffix -2 is used for the mailbox server, etc.

Kernel: The main, ‘core’ part of the operating system. The term kernel is mostly used in Linux jargon when adaptations and major upgrades of a Linux-based system are discussed.

Callsign: In radio communications terminology, the callsign serves as a ‘username’ that uniquely distinguishes wireless communicators. For example, millions of people worldwide can have a given name Miroslav, or a family name Skoric, but only one person may be assigned and use the callsign YT7MPB.

AX.25: It is the protocol used by radio amateurs in packet radio networking. AX.25 is a derivation (or adaptation) from the X.25 standard protocol used in public data networks.

GUI: The abbreviation for Graphical User Interface. A GUI is mostly found in Linux-related discussions when it comes to Linux programs that require working environment similar to MS Windows. ‘To GUI or not to GUI’ is an option that a user can choose when installs a Linux platform. In opposite to the GUI, there is a CLI (abbr. Command Line Interface) where only text mode is available.

Compiling; to Compile: Mostly used in Linux terminology: A specific procedure or a process of preparing and fine-tuning computer software for a particular peace of hardware. It is possible to compile not only end-user programs, but also operating system kernels too. If used with Windows: (usually) a process of fine-tuning computer software according to previously formatted parameter configuration lists.

AMUNET: This acronym stands for the AMateur radio University computer NETwork, which is the proposed name for a wireless network of an amateur radio BBS at a local university, including one or more amateur radio ‘digipeaters’, and one or more end-user computers in surrounding schools' computer labs, offices or homes.

Packet Radio: A communication mode between the amateur radio stations where computers control how the radio stations handle the traffic. The computers and attached modems organize information into smaller chunks of it—often referred as ‘packets’ of data, and route the packets to intended destinations.

Firewall: A peace of software that is a part of the operating system or can be an external program. It serves to protect a particular computer system it is installed on, or to protect a group of machines in a local area network (LAN).

Patch; Being Patched: A rather small peace of software which role is to upgrade the main program. Patches are released for fixing security bugs in operating systems, as well as for updating end-user applications. In case of Linux, the patches are often provided in the open source form. That enables system administrators to see what exactly a patch would do if implemented.

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