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Friday, June 27, 2008

Surfin': Got User Interface?

In this week’s Surfin’, we consider the user interface of Amateur Radio software. After you read that, come back here to post your comments, if any.

By the way, Surfin’ is a weekly column published on ARRLWeb features Web sites related to Amateur Radio, specifically, and radio, in general. If you have any suggestions for Surfin’, please contact WA1LOU using the e-mail link to the right.


  1. I think you hit the nail on the head! with the comment "the belief that anything and everything controlled by a mouse is, by default, the best and only way to go."

    I am dismayed by the complete disregard for simple technology that does exactly what it is supposed to do by modern society. so many seem to favor complex partially functioning "high tech" solutions when the problem was solved decades ago with a simple and elegant tools.

    Thank you for saying what i have been thinking for quite a while now.

  2. We customers are getting what we ask for. If we value simple and logical interface design, we should buy or build products accordingly. In general, the market seems to respond to more lights and knobs and specs, but not usability.

    I don't think this has anything to do with SDR necessarily. There is a lot of variation between non-SDR rigs. The worst offenders are my VHF handheld and mobile rigs, where there are zillions of parameters that have to be changed through an inscrutable menu system. I often have to refer to my owner's manual to do simple things. OTOH, nothing beats my trusty old Kenwood TS520-S for usability.

    The _advantage_ of SDR is that the interface is mostly defined in software. If you don't like what you have, you can program it the way you want. (At least if it's open source software, like the SDR 1/5000.) If you like knobs, buttons, and lights, you can build a software-driven hardware front panel.

    If you're not a builder/programmer, you have fewer choices, but if there's enough demand, someone will provide it.

  3. There is no pleasing everyone, as someone that writes software whatever
    I do, some will love it and others will hate it.

    If the author is complaining about commercial stuff, then don't buy it. The message will get through.

    If the complaint is about free stuff, then be kind, the person writing it is probably self taught and is just trying to do their best.

  4. Really enjoyed this article. Loved the 'Know thy user, for it is not you.' button, wish I had had one. It is so true.

    I have spent more than 10 years as a technical writer and more than 15 years as a military communications systems test engineer (that includes radio, dedicated hardline circuits, and the so-called internet).

    It never ceases to astound me that programmers are only interested in the "art" of programming "elegant" code and have no interest in the end user. Same with program managers. They refuse to employ human-machine interface concepts until the very end of the program when it is far too late to redesign the engineering version of a user interface.

  5. The problem of user interfaces is not just SDR. Nearly every new radio seems to have a menu based user interface. Though some progress seems to have been made in standardizing the interface between different models of the same manufacturer, there is no standard interface. And the ergonomics, or touch and feel of all the menu based controls on the radios I've tried is poor indeed. Maybe ARRL can create a "ham radio ergonomics lab" for the use of the industry.

  6. In regard to the original article which seemed to have spawned the reply, please note that WebSDR is described as experimental. It's a very, very early work in progress created by volunteers. Furthermore, systems like the Flex-5000 can include interfaces with rotary dials and buttons.

    The nice thing about SDR radios with open-source software is that competent end users can potentially tailor the interface to their own preferences. In any case, I doubt that manufactures would take offense to feedback about their user interfaces. Quite the opposite, I think, if the suggestions helped increased user acceptance.