I am forever trying out new logging programs. I think of it as my "hobby within a hobby". In some ways I think of it as a curse because just as soon as I think I've settled on one particular program, something else will come along to tempt me or I'll run into a problem with the program that I'm currently using and start wondering if another one does a better job.
But I think, honestly, I just enjoy trying new software. And, I try not to let my obsession with this take away from my actual operating time, what would be the point in having a logger that did everything and not have any QSO's to enter! Plus, I think a great logging program can make your on-air time much more enjoyable. It can really enhance the experience.
Having said that, I've spent the last few months trying out a few more logging programs and can offer these comments and insights. Hopefully someone may find my comments useful. In Part I, I will cover 10 items that are important to me when selecting a good logger. Later I will go over what I found in the programs that I tested and how they ranked in living up to my requirements. Obviously my requirements will differ from your's, but you may still find them helpful. I should say upfront that my operating habits are 95% CW, 4% SSB, and 1% digital modes. So, my prejudices will probably become evident.
My requirements are (not necessarily in order of importance):
1. LOTW compatibility. All programs have a way of tracking QSL's. Most seem to have a preference for eQSL. A lot of programs claim to offer "seamless" integration with LOTW but I beg to differ. I only found three in the group that I evaluated that come close and there's still some issues with each. In addition, I want LOTW to be tallied as part of my awards chasing. Most programs do this, but a few require some extra steps that aren't obvious. Using most loggers to submit your awards is like trying to thread a needle blindfolded...with your toes.
2. Awards tracking. About the only award that I'm presently interested in keeping track of is my DXCC count. All the programs I've tried are capable of tracking several awards, but some are far more versatile and friendly than others. What seems like a minor thing - the inability to resize the DXCC total window - can be very frustrating when trying to search through umpteen countries and locate one that's not been credited correctly. It's also nice to be able to export that information, like to Excel or a text file. Can you add or import other awards to track? How versatile is it for giving different views based upon bands, modes, worked, unworked, confirmed, etc?
3. Country recognition. I can understand when a program can't recognize a country with a special or unique callsign (K5D, for example), but the means to reassign that callsign to the correct country should be simple AND should be permanent. It shouldn't disappear with each update that's applied. How does it handle a slash in a callsign? Are there regular updates to the country database that incorporate the newest DXpedition calls?
4. DX Spots/Telnet. All the programs I tried have some sort of DX spotting. But tell me the country...I can't memorize all the prefixes, that's why I'm using a computer. And set the mode according to a bandplan that I can modify if I need to. If I click on a CW spot and then an SSB spot, change the mode of the radio accordingly. And while you're at it, set the radio to the exact frequency that's listed on the spot. Oh, and give me a way to tell you not to keep listing the same station every time it is spotted, even if I have to come up with some simple rules. Tell me where to point my antenna, short and long paths. And it's nice to know how far they are from me.
I like having a bandspread display for DX spots, especially one that will allow me to sort only by band. Better yet, let me have more than one bandspread displayed if I want to so I can keep an eye on another band. DX alerts are an added bonus, either pop-up windows, sounds, or even emails or text messages.
5. Logbook QSO editing. Why, oh why can't I edit multiple QSO's? Why can't I follow normal Windows practice, click on one item, scroll to the last item, hold down the shift key, select the last item, right-click and edit ANY field in the log? Why can't I hold down CTRL and select several different QSO's? Do I really have to learn SQL to do this? Ironically, some of the more "stripped down" loggers allow you to do this, but some of the more full-featured loggers make it extremely difficult. A few don't even allow multiple QSO editing.
6. QRZ (or other callbooks) lookup. A while back I downloaded the QRZ-CD database. It's nice to be able to point your logger at this and have it automatically look up stations, especially if you aren't able to be online. Even better when it will do this for spots without having to have the station "in the log". A huge plus when the program will get the info from QRZ (or wherever) without having a subscription or a CD.
7. Maps. A cool looking map is nice but it needs to be useful. Let me display prefixes or zones. Grayline is imperative. Show me the spots on the map. If it interfaces with something like DXAtlas that's great too. Show me the short path and long paths. Make it big enough that I can see it clearly, or let me resize it. Displaying propagation is really nice. Despite having taken World Geography, I didn't commit all the countries to memory, so label them for me.
8. Logbook. I don't really enter much additional information that's not normally transferred from the spots but I can understand how that is important to some and maybe someday I will too. It needs to be easy to enter information if I'm working a station that wasn't spotted. Simple navigation, like the tab key to jump to the next field. I'm lazy, so go ahead an pre-enter "599" or "59" into the RS(T) fields. I'll change it if I need to. Put the actual frequency and not just the band.
If you're going to give me a default of 42 entry fields give me an obvious way to select only the ones that I want or need. Don't make me drag them in a certain direction while holding down CTRL and touching my left temple with my right big toe in order to rearrange them. Better yet, give me just 12 fields and tell me how to add more if I want to.
Don't give me a half dozen tabs on top of the QSO entry so that I have to click on other windows to enter common information. Put the main items on the main entry window or let me choose what to put there. Don't force me to spent a half hour rearranging the fields by dragging them in a certain manner or removing useless fields.
9. Support. It needs to have a comprehensive help file built in to the program and not lead you to a webpage (what if you don't have internet access when you're using it) where you can't effectively search for answers. An active user's group or forum is a big plus. Another place where you can find answers and speak with people who have already encountered and hopefully solved problems you've run into. And a forum void of moderators who are sharp-tongued and rude.
Can I find updates easily, and, more importantly, can I apply them safely without fear of corrupting what I've already saved? Does each update return all my settings to default or are they carried over?
10. Rig control. Initially this was a big concern for me. I had hopes of having a remote-controlled station. But, now, I don't really have a strong interest in making that investment. Some programs weigh more heavily in this area and are usually lacking in the logging functions.
Eye candy is nice but not for the sake of occupying three-quarters of the screen. Better yet, give me that option in case I am operating remote, but let me turn it off or switch to a streamlined display when I want to.
Now, if it sounds like I'm harping on some of the shortcomings from the various programs I tried, you're right. Sometimes it's a trade-off. One program might excel in one area but be extremely weak in another.
It is hard to be overly critical of software that is written and supported by fellow hams in their spare time and who don't charge a single penny for it. There are several of these programs available and most do a great job. But it is also reasonable to expect software, whether free or at a cost, to do what it claims to do. That's even more true for software that you pay for. Nothing is worse than discovering that your log is corrupt or that the past 200 QSO's have the incorrect time zone because of a glitch, especially if those 200 included a couple of rare ones.
You may be wondering, what exactly qualifies me as an evaluator? Well, simple. I'm an end-user. We all are. And while I'd probably be in over my head if I tried to write my own logging program, I write software used in the process control industry for a living. So I have a rudimentary understanding of what it takes to accomplish certain tasks.
So there's my "requirements". Next time I'll start listing the programs I tried and how they measured up.