Please note that the titles for each of the packages are hyperlinks that will take you to the author's own site.
Keeping a station log is a statutory requirement of the Amateur Licence. The licence states what must be logged and how the logging must be accomplished. Two methods are allowed, the paper logbook or some sort of softcopy stored on an electronic storage medium. Taken together these requirements, set the minimum standards for logging software that is used in the UK.
There are numerous logging packages on the market and they range in price from free to nearly £100. All of them can do much more than simply log contacts. Most will track awards, countries worked on different bands and modes, recall previous QSOs (never forget a name again) and a whole host of other things. It would be impossible to review all of the packages available, so this review concentrates on the five most widely used packages.
The objectives of this review are first and foremost to see if the packages meet the minimum logging requirements set on in the licence and then to look at what other facilities and features they might have. Each package has been evaluated over a period of time to ensure that the review reflects how they work in real situations.
The first step for anyone wishing to use this sort of software (especially if they wish to track countries worked) will be to enter all previous QSOs. This is potentially very time consuming indeed in 23 years of operation, I have made something like 50,000 contacts. Surprisingly, only TurboLog incorporates an easy method of recording country/mode scores without entering in all the details of all of the relevant QSOs.
Interestingly, while all the packages support connection to the DX Cluster, none automatically logs the connect and disconnect times, which would be useful to complete the station log.
Net operation presents logging software with a particular problem in that you are effectively in contact with several stations simultaneously, people may join and leave at the same or different times. I have looked to see if this very common mode of operation is supported with some surprises!
Although TurboLog is a DOS package, it has a sophisticated menu driven interface. It has the feel of a quality product. I was quickly able to make use of the many facilities available aided by the professional looking User Guide. The display screen has been very well thought out and was very clear even with the monochrome VGA display on my laptop PC. TurboLog interfaces to a wide variety of different systems, even allowing paging to be set up so that the avid DXer can be alerted to the appearance of a new country on the bands, wherever they are.
The software allows compliance with to the UK licence requirements with all of the relevant information being recordable. Station open and close can be logged using the remark facility in the call window; hence full compliance with the UK licence requirements is easy.
The DX Cluster facilities were good with sophisticated filtering options available. A nice touch being that the software attempts to log out of the cluster when it is closed down. It was possible to monitor the cluster without being connected, by commanding the TNC to monitor un-protocolled messages (M U commands for a TNC2). The Morse code sending facility works well. A minor problem (for a poor typist like me) is that there is no display of what is being types in the Morse keyboard mode.
TurboLog has its own internal country information database and instructions are provided on how to keep it up-to-date in these turbulent times. TurboLog supports IOTA through use of its keyword facilities. A ready-made IOTA file is available at extra cost (currently £10).
If you need to import logs from other packages such as those for contests, there are a wide variety of options available including a general ASCII format.
SHACKLOG has quite a basic user-interface, which is in part a limitation of the DOS operating system. In use, it makes extensive use of various function keys in a manner that for me was rather counter-intuitive for example on one screen moving between columns required the use of a function key instead of the tab key or cursor keys. The main functions are displayed on the screen so finding the correct key to use is generally easy (usually after trying the wrong one!). Once the initial learning phase was over, the software was quite easy to use. On my shack PC, which has a VGA screen, the display used small fonts when the packet system was in operation, making it rather hard to read. This was not a problem with a higher resolution monitor.
The program has some significant strengths, firstly it does allow logging that conforms fully to the UK licence requirements. CQ calls, test transmissions and station closedown time can all be logged. Secondly, the program can use the DX Cluster in a non-connected mode snoop mode. This is very useful for Short-wave Listeners and also for licenced amateurs who can hear a DX Cluster but have unreliable connection to it. As it is written and supported from the UK, SHACKLOG offers UK telephone support that could be handy as you get to know the package.
The software does not come with any inherent country database. This means that you must enter the relevant country information the first time that you contact each country. From then the program will recognise the country prefix. This is a rather cumbersome method of doing things and relies on the operator knowing all the prefixes rather than the software. This omission makes the software very much less useful than it might be, especially for anyone new to the HF bands who might not know the prefixes to start with.
Contest logs can be imported from all of the major packages and the import routine can be adapted to import a wide range of other formats. ADIF is not directly supported however. SHACKLOG provides good support for the IOTA awards via some additional software. An IOTA awards manager costs £5 and and IOTA database costs £8.
Log-EQF was supplied to me on a CD Rom although the author advises me that 3.5 inch disks are the standard method of despatch. Log-EQF has a fairly basic user interface which runs a program packed with features. It supports a mouse, making navigation of the menus quick and easy. It has particularly good support for contests/DXpeditions and many users will not find the need for additional Contest Software if Log-EQF is used.
The packet operation worked well but has one serious disadvantage. The main cluster window does not display the callsign of the station who send the DX alert. With packet spots coming in from all round the world is is not uncommon to see spots during our daylight hours showing , for example w6 working JA on 160. These spots are of little use here in the UK. If you can see that the spotter is a W6 all is well but without that information, time can be wasted looking for DX on bands that are closed. The spotting station is displayed on the main screen but as this only displays the latest spot received, you may need to look quickly if the spots are coming in thick and fast! (Note added August 2000, the author of Log-EQF advises me that this problem has been addressed in later versions of the software).
Various awards are directly supported, including IOTA. Import options include ADIF, fast becoming the lingua Franca for software of this sort. The software supports control of two different stations allowing operation of equipment in a holiday home or at a club station to be done with ease.
A good CW keyboard forms part of the program. All the usual facilities such as preprogrammed messages are included. File formats and rig control configuration is well documented allowing interfaces rigs not currently supported to be programmed easily.
DX4WIN as the name suggests, is a Windows package. It makes good use of the Windows screen, allowing a range of information to be displayed. In operation, it is easy to use and full of features. There is a 128 page manual that you are invited to print out. It is well worth the paper to do this if you want to get the maximum benefit from the software. DX4WIN includes a map display that shows you the approximate location of stations as you work them. You can zoom in to the country and as you do some, some additional detail is revealed. This detail includes the locations of some large towns. The choice of towns available is rather odd, for example in England, 15 towns are shown, including Farnborough (surely not the 15th largest conurbation) and Newcastle-under-Lyme but not Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The map also shows the grey-line and the great circle path. It will also display the locations of DX Spots as they come in from the cluster. The mapping is a nice idea but had the feel of a work-in-progress rather than the finished article (unlike the rest of the program).
Unfortunately, DX4WIN does not readily allow adherence to the UK licence conditions. The authors suggest that CQ calls are logged by entering a zero in the RST field, invalidating the QSO whilst still recording it. Presumably power could be entered in the comment field. Neither of these work-arounds is ideal and they do tend to detract from what is an otherwise excellent program.
The tracking of awards was effective and it is possible for the user to design methods for tracking new awards. This is fully explained in the manual and seemed quite easy to do. Cluster facilities were good with plenty of filtering options. You can configure DX4WIN to accept spots from predefined countries, this can be useful if your cluster node relays internet spots, some of which may not be of any interest.
DX4WIN includes an up-to-date country file. This can easily be edited from within DX4WIN to add new DXCC entities or to delete old ones. An IOTA database is included as standard, this can also be directly edited. Exchanging data with other programs by importing or exporting logs is well supported with 60 formats available, including SD.
DW4WIN includes a CW sending facility. This is well implemented with a scrolling display showing what you have types so that you can make corrections as you go.
Update 17-9-00. The DX4WIN team advise me that they have just released Version 5 which has a fully integrated PSK31 window along with other enhancements.
StationMaster is another Windows based package. In operation it was easy to use StationMaster, initially with reference to the printed manual that is supplied in Word and PDF format. Aside from all of the normal facilities there were one or two special things. The software includes an integrated propagation model, allowing the user to look at the Highest and Lowest possible frequencies to any location. It was not clear which propagation model was used but it was probably Minimuf or something similar. The sunspot number for the propagation model is either taken automatically from the DX Cluster or can be put in manually. Uniquely, StationMaster incorporates support for net operation. It is surprising that this is not more widely supported considering how many nets there are.
The software does not allow a CQ call to be entered directly although the author was able to suggest a simple work-around that allowed conformance to the UK licence conditions. There is no display of information typed in the CW keyboard mode making accurate typing a necessity.
The log and the various country databases are all stored as Microsoft Access files. This enables them to be easily edited either using Access or by using a utility supplied with StationMaster.
StationMaster will import many of the well-known station and contest logging package file formats. The only major package missing was NA, which is not widely used in the UK.
There are numerous free logging packages available from the Internet. Some of these are quite sophisticated, rivaling the most complex paid-for packages. Logger by Robert C. Furzer looks to be particularly interesting and has a wide range of features. It can be found from various amateur radio internet sites, just search for amateur radio logging programs. Some of the free packages come without guaranteed support from the author so you should make sure that you are happy with the package before you start using it. Paying for software goes some way towards encouraging the author to keep developing the package but it is very much an individual decision as to whether you are happy with the free route.
There is a logging package to suit every users needs. It is difficult to recommend one over another, as the choice is rather subjective. They are all good value-for-money and over time, will save the cost of paper logbooks. The facilities for tracking awards and countries will be of use to many HF DXers and there are lots of facilities for VHF and UHF DXers too. If I had to choose one for my own station it would probably be TurboLog but in fact Im sticking with a pen and paper for the sole reason that I have no room for a PC on the operating desk!
Finally, I would like to thank the companies who willingly supplied their software for review and provided useful comments on the draft text.
 See RadCom October 1997 for a full review of TurboLog
 The author advises that this will be addressed in the next issue of SHACKLOG