If you thought APRS was just about using ham radio to plot the position of mobiles on a map then you are wrong. If you thought you needed a TNC connected to a VHF radio to use APRS then you were wrong about that too - it certainly helps if you want to actively participate but it isn't essential. With nothing more than some free software and the computer you are using now you can join the APRS network and see what is going on in ham radio in your locality. So why not give it a try?
APRSISCE is the latest, most actively developed APRS client software for Windows. It runs on Windows PCs, Windows Mobile phones (up to WM 6.5) and many older Pocket PC / Windows CE devices. It also runs under wine on Linux. This article will show you how to get a basic APRSISCE installation up and running. The Windows desktop PC version (APRSIS32) is illustrated, but the mobile version is very similar.
APRSISCE is developed by Lynn Deffenbaugh, KJ4ERJ. To get the software you must first join the APRSISCE group at Yahoo! Be sure to give your name and call on the registration page or your application will be delayed until Lynn has obtained that information from you. Once you have been granted access you can go to the Files section in the group and download the software. You want the APRSIS32 version for Windows desktop PCs and APRSISCE6P for mobile devices.
Installing the software
The program is packaged in a zip file. There is no installer. Create a folder for APRSIS32 and extract the contents of the zip file into the folder. I would recommend C:\APRSIS32 or C:\Ham\APRSIS32 (the last is what I actually use - I keep all my ham radio programs under the C:\Ham folder.)
If you are running Windows Vista or Windows 7 then do not install APRSISCE into a folder under Program Files. The program needs to have read/write access to files in this folder and a subfolder it creates for the map tiles, and the Windows protection of the Program Files folder won't allow it.
Now you can create a shortcut on the desktop or wherever is convenient to start the program.
Starting the configuration
Double-click the .EXE file to run the program. The Client Configuration dialog will appear.
Enter your call and desired SSID into MyCall-ssid. If you don't know what an SSID is then your call on its own will do fine.
If you have used other APRS software before and have a password that you used with it, enter it into Password. The password allows you to send information to the APRS-IS internet network. If you don't have a password, leave it as the default -1 for now. This will let you receive information from the network but not send it. To obtain a password for APRSISCE you must request one from KJ4ERJ (firstname.lastname@example.org.) Be sure to state your name and callsign when requesting it.
As you're using a computer, the laptop icon is also good for now. If you're using a mobile phone then you'll probably have a blue telephone icon instead. So click Accept to get to the next stage of the configuration.
Setting your position
The main window of APRSISCE will now appear. However, since the program doesn't know where you are, it will have you located at zero degrees of longitude on the Equator.
You set your position by dragging the map so that your location is centered, zooming in to increase the scale and show more detail in order to pinpoint your position exactly.
You can drag the map using your mouse (or your finger in the mobile version.) Use the Up arrow key to increase the scale (zoom in) and the Down arrow key to decrease it (zoom out).
The Left and Right arrow keys alter the transparency of the map. The Right arrow increases the opacity (makes it less transparent) while the Left arrow increases the transparency (makes it less opaque.) Tip for Linux users: If you don't see a map at all, your display drivers under wine may not support transparency so hit the Right arrow key at least 10 times to reach full opacity.
Once you have the center of the screen in the ball-park, zoom right in to set your position with accuracy. (The black diamond with an I in it is the symbol for my VHF gateway which had been received while I was doing this: you won't normally see anything unless you have another APRS station. The yellow expanding circle shows the progress of APRSISCE retrieving map tiles for the area.)
When you are satisfied that you have your exact location in the center of the screen, click Transmit on the menu. This will set your position so that it will be recalled the next time you start the program.
You can now zoom back out again to see the whole of the area you are interested in.
You now have a working basic installation of APRSISCE/32. In future articles in the series I hope to cover more advanced configuration, messaging, connecting a radio or TNC and other aspects of the program. The next tutorial in the series looks at Getting Started with APRSISCE/32.
If you have any questions about using APRSISCE/32 then check out the APRSISCE wiki. If you can't find the answer there then please ask in the APRSISCE Yahoo! group. Use the group's search function first in case it is a frequently asked question!