Linux for Amateur Radio Applications


Created 27th August 2001, last updated 28th April, 2014.



The use of Linux for Amateur Radio applications is fast growing, as a fast, reliable operating system, as an
alternative to Microsoft's Windows platform. Linux is great for amateur radio applications, as you dont need
the latest and greatest PC to run your application, old junked PC's make great hardware platforms for running
Linux on, even an old 386 PC can be used to tasks like a Packet Radio node with older versions of Linux.

In the past I started with Redhat 5.2 Linux, then later migrated to Debian/GNU Linux 3.0r2 and also Fedora 1.
Debian/GNU Linux  was known for its amateur radio related functionality already built into the kernel that
grabbed my attention in terms of playing with packet radio, the AX25 library was built into the kernel,
(thanks to people like Terry Dawson, VK2KTJ).

In terms of a "free" Linux operating system for personal use:
I am now running Ubuntu (GNOME) Desktop v8.10 and also Ubuntu server 8.10 at home,  I did also install and
evaluated Fedora 9 & 10, Debian GNU/Linux 4.0r3 and 4.0r5 in both Gnome(GUI)  and Server(Text) configurations.
I chose Ubuntu for home use, based on it providing a clear cut choice of GNOME and KDE install choices,
plus a Server version, also that Ubuntu is based on Debian and provided a good selection of amateur radio
packages to choose from.  Ubuntu also provides an Educational version called Edubuntu geared for children
which provides a good foundation for children to embrace Linux. Also have recently dabbled with RedHat
Enteprise Linux ( EL4 & EL5) where it is in use at my work QTH. Now running Ubuntu 8.10 Gnome, Fedora10 Gnome
and Debian5.0 Gnome. Also using Ubuntu 8.10 GNOME along with WineHQ to run Echolink.

If starting off from scratch then Ubuntu or Fedora is a good start, as both are a breeze to install,
whereas Debian takes a little more understanding and work, but better suited for development, although later
versions i.e. 4.0r5 are coming up on par for easy installation and usability when compared with Ubuntu (v8.10)
and Fedora (v10).  All pretty much offer a choice of GNOME Desktop or KDE desktop environments, some
are easier to select, i.e. Kubuntu is a installer for Ubuntu with KDE desktop, a matter of personal taste
of which desktop you prefer, or what specific software packages that you may require to run, as
you will encounter specific packages created for either GNOME or KDE environments. Other choices include Xfce,
LXDE or SUGAR desktop environments, but these are stripped down in functionality, compared to GNOME and KDE.
Debian 5.0 offers the five DE's above to choose from, or install all and choose which one you wish to use at power on.

There are other flavours of Linux such as SUSE, KNOPPIX, Gentoo, GeeXbox, Slackware, Mandriva, Damn Small Linux,
SLAX, BackTrack,  some are commercial products some are free, I have not tried these other
Linux packages yet. I originally tried RedHat 5.2 as it was the first branding of Linux I had come across, later
moving to Fedora 1 (after the split of RedHat and creation of Fedora as two separate commercial/free entities)
then I tried Debian GNU/Linux 3r2 based on recommendation  and later again when I tried Ubuntu it was also on
recommendation. Ubuntu also drew my attention, as it was itself based on Debian GNU/Linux.

Again, if using the "latest" hardware, you need to check which Linux will support your new hardware,
in terms of specific drivers. Using old PC hardware, then your choices of Linux open up.

Other software for Linux, where does one start, plenty of Amateur Radio software around for Linux, which is
another draw card for Ubuntu & Debian, just download through the Ubuntu (or Debian) software utility.
Also Fedora is catching up by including many Amateur Radio packages in recent releases (i.e. Fedora 11).
If you are running dedicated application on an older PC, requiring a desktop environment, then consider
a Linux base  with the Xfcs Desktop Environment, instead of KDE or Gnome. The Xfce DE is trim and lightweight
of all the fancy applications you get with Gnome and KDE. A good example if Xubuntu, which is the Ubuntu
base  but running the Xfce DE instead of Gnome DE.

Development software, again plenty of "free" packages for all sorts of utilities and programming lanaguages
downloadable, which is great for the home Linux user, see the GNU link below, you don't have to pay for
expensive development packages just so you can dabble and appease your curiosity in home computing.

From a "corporate" view of Linux, Redhat EL4 and EL5 provide good packages for a commercial "Enterprise" level.
I have had customers using SUSE, but RedHat seems to be most prolific in my customer's organisations.
Look at the NASA website, one of the most frequented websites in the world, NASA use RedHat for their servers.
NASA put men on the moon and a robot on Mars, so if they use RedHat, then it must be ok.

April 2009 - just did the upgrade of Ubuntu 8.10 (Gnome) to 9.04  as part of the software updates - now that was very easy.

June 2009 - ran up Xastir APRS client on Xubuntu 8.10 and Debian 5.0 both work well. Now running Xastir node on Ubuntu 9.04

July 2009 - upgraded my Fedora 10(Gnome) to Fedora 11, which was easy & painless.

Aug 2009 - been operating Echolink on Ubuntu 9.04 (Gnome) with WINE, but now realised, that to operate properly,
you need a decent powered machine, ie Intel 2GHz or faster with 300MB RAM or greater,  it works on receive audio
from IP to radio ok, but radio to IP audio loses chunks, due to latency delays.
The same rated machine with just Win XP copes ok. Maybe try Xubuntu (Xfce) instead of Ubuntu as a trim, cleaner version
for low powered machines.

Sep 2009 - have tried Xubuntu (Xfce DE) and Xubuntu with LXDE instead of Xfce for the DE, yes, they running faster
than straight Ubuntu on old hardware e.g. P2-400, P3-500, K6-450 with smaller memory footprint, reduced CPU uage
and generally just run faster at the DE.  Overall it seems worth the trouble in pursueing the more lighweight DE's
to gain performance.
Also notinced in the latest Fedora 11 release notes that they stepping up with more amateur radio and electronics
packages included.

Oct 2009 - upgraded Ubuntu & Xubuntu boxes automatically and seemlessly to 9.10

May 2010 - attempted install of Gentoo & Slackware, both had issue with installing on an old IBM PC300GL. Slackware uses
a very manual install, which is understandable as it is a slim install, designed to install and also run on old
PC's with small resource footprints. The Gentoo install stopped early in the install 'searching for WD7000'
With Slackware it ran through the install ok, but failed during actual boot, will try this again sometime on different
hardware.
I did install OpenSuse 11.2 successfully, very nice menu driven installation and the GUI is very easy look at and use
I installed/tested OpenSuse with KDE 4.3 desktop. The desktop ran well, considering it was an old IBM PC300GL (P3/500
with only 384 MB) I would recommend OpenSuse for newbies to Linux, as it was easy to intall and use. As far as amateur
radio usage, it does not have any ham packages. OpenSuse offer the choice of both Gnome and KDE desktops during install.

June 2010 - finally upgraded my Ubuntu Desktop from 9.10 to 10.04 LTS - looks good, some great new features.

July 2010 - I stopped to look at WUBI site and actually had a proper look at what it does and I have to say that it
is definitely worthwhile having a look at for someone running a MS Windows box, who wishes to try Ubuntu, but are
hesitant to trash Windows.  The old Compaq P3-600 PC with Fedora11 died so it needed to be discarded. I will use the
PC currently running Opensuse 11.2 to install Fedora 13 Desktop on. The old P2-500 IBM PC I will now use for Ubuntu 10.04
Server Edition.

December 2010 - upgraded to Ubuntu 10.10 and Fedora 14, both upgraded easily, even tried just some clean installs on both
as VM images, both versions are getting easier to install, very impressive.

September 2011 - have been upgrading/installing Fedora 15 and Ubuntu 11.04 as well as latest Debian 6.0.2 release,
the old PC's were ditched and now using Dell 450 & 470 Precision servers, much faster. Note that Fedora15 making more
reference to Amateur Radio with more amateur radio packages included. The Debian 6.0.2 was easier to install than
the past versions I have tried, which is good.

December 2011 - discovered SvxLink and Qtel, an Echolink Server and Client for Linux, SvxLink is  primarily geared up
for Fedora, but with some extra effort you could get it running on Ubuntu and Suse.

January 2012 - looking more into this SvxLink as replacement for my Windows based Echolink node.

May 2013 - been playing with Fedora 17 and now Fedora 18  and Ubuntu 13.04
They really are looking more similiar all the time, Fedora still offers a choice of desktop GUI to sit on Fedora Core,
being Gnome (the default desktop) and other spins of KDE, LXDE and Xfce desktops.  Gnome and KDE offer full featured
desktops. LXDE and Xfce are lightweight desktops, good if you building a dedicated App server, or using very old PC's
that lack the CPU & memory resources.

Both Ubuntu and Fedora offering 32bit and 64bit versions.

Ubuntu is by default using GNOME desktop. The best news about recent Ubuntu is it is being ported onto phones and tablets
and TV, much like what Apple does with iMac/iPhone/iPad/Apple TV with a common O/S, and similiar to Google and Android,
so you can cross-port most Apps across devices. That is great for synching apps & data across devices, not just for your
Amateur Radio apps, but everything. The Ubuntu offerings put a little more competition in the marketplace, plus still
retain some more "open-ness" in comparison to Apple and Google (Android) based offerings.

June 2013 -  Ubuntu 13.04 does not work on a Dell  Precision 450 Desktop (with Nvidia video card),  it runs the Live
installer DVD, until you actually login, then it just goes white background. Went back through older versions of Ubuntu
Live CD/DVD to find last working version was Ubuntu 10.10.  Ubuntu 13.04 does work fine on Dell Inspiron 6000 Notebook
and Dell Precision 470 Desktop (with ATI video card). Also confirmed Kubuntu 13.04 works better on Dell Precision 450,
but eventually after a few minutes working it hangs. Tested the Dell Precision 450 (with Nvidia video card) it fully
works with Fedora18 (Gnome), CentOS 6.4 (both Gnome and KDE versions). I expect the Fedora 18 (KDE) will probably work,
but have not tested that yet. As for the old Dell Inspiron 6000 Notebook, it runs Ubuntu 13.04 desktop, it's much faster
and cleaner than  Windows XP Pro, so I am real happy with it. It gives a new life for an old notebook PC.

Centos 6.4 I had heard this mentioned but didnt really know what it was until recently, basically, it is the Community
Enterprise (free) version of RedHat EL, it has the logos and artwork replaced and is a free, unsupported version of
Enterprise Level of RedHat, it is only community supported version, but it is certainly a robust, stable version of
Linux OS that a amateur radio operator can use for home use. CentOS is used as the default OS for IRLP nodes.
The Live DVD is great, you can run a Live test of both Gnome and KDE versions on an existing PC, or you can install either
version if you like. Installation was easy, I was very pleased with the presentation of the package. This is a good
starter package if you want known stability and do not wish to take risks installing the latest cutting-edge Linux OS's
such as Fedora or Debian. I am really pleased to have discovered and tried CentOS as another non-commercial alternative
for non-commercial use.

Amateur Radio "weak signal" software such as Fldigi and FLARQ and all work fine on Ubuntu 13.04 and Fedora 18, plus a
few other ham based packages that I tested. I will be using the Dell Inspiron 6000 with Ubuntu 13.04 for radio weak
signal work. I will retire the Dell GX-240 desktop that had Ubuntu 10.04 with WSJT 9.3

April 2014 - My CentOS 6.4 Desktop is now at 6.5,  this is the final version for CentOS6, as CentOS7 will now only be
available in 64 bit version from now on. The 6.5 version will see out the remaining life in the Dell Precision 450.
My two Debian instances have been upgrading themselves over the past few months and currently at Debian 7.4, these are
both on Dell Precision 470 (quad 3GHz Xeons). The Fedora 18 (on a Dell Precision 450 ) I have just upgraded to version 20,
skipping over 19.
This upgrade involved the use of the fedup utility for the first time, I followed the Fedora 20 upgraded instructions,
checking the I had version 0.3 of fedup (fedora-upgrade) utility, and did the upgrade via online method, it all went
smooth and no issues.  The Fedora changes between 18 to 20 are significant, with the all new look and feel of the desktop,
with side bar, it looks very similiar to Ubuntu (considering both are GNOME based).  My Ubuntu 13.10 which is on a Dell Inspiron
6000 Notebook needs to go to next Ubuntu version which will be 14.04

Versions:
CentOS 6.5 (final)  on Dell 450 (dual 3GHz Xeon) with Nvidia video card
kernel 2.6.32-431.11.2.el6.centos.plus.i686 (32 bit)
GNOME desktop 2.28.2

Debian 7.4 (wheezy) on Dell 470  (quad 3GHz Xeon)  with ATI video card
kernel 3.2.0-4-686-pae   (32 bit)
GNOME desktop 3.63    graphics Gallium 0.4 on NV34

Debian 7.4 (wheezy) on Dell 470  (quad 3GHz Xeon)   with ATI video card
kernel 3.2.0-4-686-pae   (32 bit)
KDE desktop 4.8.4   graphics Gallium 0.4 OpenGL   and X-Server 11.204 (11.0)

PREVIOUS:
Fedora 18  on Dell 450  (dual 3GHz Xeon)   with Nvidia video card
kernel 3.11.10-100.fc18.i686.PAE (32 bit)
GNOME desktop  3.6.3      graphics Gallium 0.4 on NV34

NOW:
Fedora 20 on Dell 450  (dual 3GHz Xeon)   with Nvidia video card
kernel 3.13.10-200.fc20.i686-PAE   (32 bit)
GNOME desktop 3.10.2      graphics Gallium 0.4 on NV34

Ubuntu 13.10   on Del 6000 Notebook  (1.7 GHz Pentium M)   with Intel 915 chipset

As can be seen the Fedora is the most up to date version  as far as kernel and GNOME desktop releases, it is cutting
edge,  I seen the Fedora do some odd behaviour, but that's to be expected, as it is cutting edge.  I like the two Debian
instances, as I can compare GNOME versus KDE on the same stable kernel, the GNOME is standard and easier to use, however,
the KDE has more utilities, but again the two competing technologies is yielding fast technologically advanced desktops
that run on multiple platforms.


Ham - Linux related sites

Ham - WSJT and WSPR Weak Signal Digital modes for Linux

Ham - APRS for Linux

Linux download sites

other Linux related sites Some mail lists related to Ham-Linux
You can subsribe to various mail lists:
the QTH.net ham-linux list
To subscribe from this list: send the line "subscribe ham-linux" in the body of a message to majordomo@qth.net
the QTH.net ham-linux digests
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the vger.kernel.org ham-linux list:
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the debian hams list:
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