|I was one of the very early, version 1 adopters of CommCat but, in 2004, I returned to a former logging program because I thought it offered a more refined and general set of capabilities. In more recent times, however, that program has been less well supported and has become somewhat overly burdened for its underlying architecture, making it awkward to accomplish certain tasks and, for some functions, annoyingly slow. As a result, I decided to take another look at CommCat and, after doing so, decided to transition to the currently available version 3. This, then, is my second review of CommCat, my first being written back in 2003, after using versions 1 and 2. Since then, the program has been steadily refined, and I’m happy to report that it runs very well on my XP machine. Support by Howard Nurse, W6HN, is as terrific as it was years ago. When, for example, it became evident that there were some obstacles to importing data from my former program, Howard created an update version of CommCat with a fix for the problem on the same day I contacted him. Then, when it turned out that in creating the fix, a problem with the spot manager had crept in, he immediately created another update that corrected the problem. In short, I was able to go live with the program within about 24 hours of my first attempt to import log data. The overall feel of the program is the same as it was back in versions 1 and 2, and that’s fine, since the program was well thought out from the get-go. The program’s many capabilities are beyond the scope of this review, but suffice it to say that I can get the program to do just about anything I can think of, including but not limited to seamless interfacing of three separate radios, full rotator control, and packet/telnet/internet integration for spotting with the ability to set up rules for custom spot identification and triage to the log, callsign lookup, and entity status screens. Report generation is very capable, as is QSL label printing and, for those who want it, QSL designing and printing. The program’s underlying structure allows it to run quickly and smoothly. Howard has also set up applications he calls MyQSX and CommCat Live. These are web applications that allow participating stations to be pinpointed on a map when active and to have their operating data listed on a web page. As from the beginning of its life, CommCat is still intended mainly for the DXer, but it is a capable program for general logging, as well. It is not meant to be a contest program and does not have a built in contest mode with associated event rules. What it does do is track the usual DX awards, and it has full LoTW connectivity. In summary, CommCat has become a mature logging application with all the bells and whistles a DXer could want, and it has truly great support from its creator. It should also be said that the cost is amazingly reasonable, being less than half the cost of my former program and with free upgrades, as well. (NOTE: I have no business relationship with CommCat or its creator.) |
Earlier 5-star review posted by K6JW on 2003-04-27
Early amateur radio logging software was pretty much limited to simple, DOS-based databases with minimal report generation capability. With the advent of MS Windows, more sophisticated packages were created which, when they weren't crashing, were still relatively limited and inflexible. With further development and refinement, we saw the appearance of packet interfaces and a host of other grafted-on functions, including rig communication and control, antenna rotation, internet connectivity, label and address generation, and ever more sophisticated contact tracking and reporting functions. With further evolution, programs appeared that were increasingly capable of supporting the needs of contesters and DXers. CommCat, created by Howard Nurse, W6HN, is, arguably, the most highly developed of the currently available, DX-targeted programs.
Before going any farther, let me state that I have no business relationship with W6HN or his software business. I'm a user of CommCat who has acquired enough experience running the program and interacting with Howard to share some thoughts about both with those considering taking the plunge into a very sophisticated and specialized amateur radio software application.
While CommCat can be used for general logging, it is specifically designed to support the DXer. For many years, I used another program for all my logging and, although intrigued by CommCat when I first saw it at the International DX Convention in Visalia in 2002, I wasn't sufficiently motivated to rush into the misery of the data conversion that would be necessary to get my log (dating back to 1958) transferred from the program I was using into CommCat. A few weeks later, however, at the Dayton Hamvention, I once again spoke with Howard and, on "considered impulse", purchased Version 1. For the next six months I played with it, downloading Howard's incremental upgrades from his website as each was issued until, finally, I decided that this work-in-progress had advanced enough that I really had to make the switch from my former logging program in order to support my worsening DX habit. As I encountered some difficulties with the importing of my log, Howard was consistently helpful, working almost in real time with me via volleys of e-mail to get everything properly moved and placed in the correct fields. In the process, Howard's guidance led me to a greater understanding ADIF data interchange and the structure both of my former program and of CommCat. Even more impressive, as I progressively voiced a wish list of capabilities and a number of concerns over program limitations I was encountering, Howard quickly made changes in the program that addressed every one of my issues. Sometimes he accomplished this on the same day but in no case did it take longer than overnight.
I have now been fully up and running on CommCat for several months, during which time Howard has released Version 2 and worked with users, including me, to resolve a few more issues and further polish the program's performance. CommCat functions as it should and provides me with a wealth of supportive information and operating flexibility tailored to my specific needs and desires. Here's pretty much what it does: logging, DX spotting which is highly configurable according to user-set rules and which interfaces with both packet (e.g., PacketCluster, DX Spider) nodes and internet sources, DX plotting by callsign (and other info, if desired) on a visual spectrum, DX stations' operating pattern tracking over time, spectrum monitoring, callsign lookup from CD-ROM or the internet with extensive country information that includes maps, full rig (up to three radios) and rotor interfacing, and complete DX award tracking and reporting. It even includes the ability to track which contacts have been submitted and checked for credit. Many of the screens allow the user a measure of cosmetic customization and control over the actual data elements displayed. For example, the advanced logging screen permits selection of displayed fields, field order, font and color. The spotting screen allows the user to filter spots according to a variety of rules, to display different types of spots in different colors, and it even has a separate packet display screen (i.e., separate from the main packet interface screen) that can be brought up if desired for monitoring purposes. The degree of configurability is greater than this review can detail in limited space.
CommCat in Version 2 is much less a work in progress than it was in Version 1. Nevertheless, it's my guess that Howard will continue make incremental improvements based upon his own ideas as well as those of his users. Support for users is abundant. There is a CommCat user community connected through an e-mail reflector as well as a nicely organized (but not highly accessed, to date) online forum. Howard almost always responds to e-mails within minutes to a few hours.
Wrinkles and shortcomings? Very few. The manual, while excellent for basic operation, still lacks certain details which, if included, would have decreased the amount of e-mail that I've sent to Howard requesting guidance for more advanced setup and operation. Also, I'd like to see the program offer the user the ability to create one or two custom fields. Finally, ongoing use has continued to turn up some very minor issues in report generation. Howard has responded to each of these quickly and comprehensively but one can't help but suspect that there may still be a few undiscovered program flaws lurking out there, waiting for the opportunity to reveal themselves as the program receives increasing use. Still, these shortcomings are clearly minor and far less troublesome than some of those I've encountered with other logging software. For example, one contest logging program I recently had occasion to try was extensively but so poorly documented and personally supported that I finally gave up trying to custom configure it for even the simplest of contest applications.
In summary, while CommCat is still evolving and going through a measure of shake-out in real-world use, it has reached levels of sophistication, capability and reliability that are impressive, and I am very comfortable with the decision I made to switch to CommCat in light of my primary interest in DXing. Although CommCat might not be my first choice as a general logging program, it serves that purpose well enough for me. The one exception to this is contesting, for which a dedicated contest logging program with a full range of contest-specific modules offers significant advantages. If your primary operating interest is DX, however, CommCat is well worth serious consideration. Rating: 5/5.
(NOTE: In fairness to my previous, general logging program, LOGic, and the superior service and support offered by its creator, Dennis Hevener, WN4AZY, I must say that LOGic has served me extraordinarily well for many years and would have continued to do so had CommCat, with its DX-centric focus, not come along to meet my special interest needs. If highly configurable, general logging with some DXing and some contesting capability is what you need, then LOGic has more than enough built into it to keep you happy. Furthermore, Dennis, in the same way as Howard with CommCat, is consistently and readily available with answers to users' questions and for assistance with problem solving. After almost a decade using LOGic, I think it only fair to acknowledge Dennis' great achievement with that program and all of his tremendous help and support. My heart is in DX, though, and for that, CommCat has the edge.)