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Review of N3FJP’s AC Log 4.x

Posted by on August 8, 2013

 

Overview:

This is the review of N3FJP’s AC Log, One of the best logging program available just got better!  Scott Davis, (N3FJP), has announced his completion of the rewrite of the popular logging program called “Amateur Contact Log“, version 4.0 from Visual Basic to the C# language, moving the version number from ACL3.4x to ACL4.x.  See my review of ACL3.4 here.

Review of N3FJP's AC Log: ACLog 4.x, click for larger view

ACLog 4.x, click for larger view

Alas, I had hoped that the next rewrite might make it possible to port to Linux…  This rewrite does not do that, (thank you Microsoft), but, it does run under VirtualBox, and I hear under Wine for Linux as well.  So it looks as if I will be keeping  my VirtualBox Windows XP box for a bit longer…

Overall the program seems more mature, the look and feel are better, the fonting seems better, but there are a few foibles in it yet, not many, and nothing bad so far.  Overall the program is well written, seems a tad bit slower than 3.4, (which is not a surprise), but has several new features which make it a good change.  Best of all, N3FJP makes the update available free to registered users.  Something that surprises me.  Most vendors will charge for a major version change.  Perhaps given that this was not really a massive change, (to the user, but a total re-write to the author), no charge was levied.

N3FJP states on his web site:

Listed below are all of our amateur radio programs currently available, along with their individual registration fees. We also offer package suites which include all of the programs listed, free registration of any additional amateur radio software that we add to the package, as well as free upgrades to existing programs. Please see the registration options at the bottom of this page for more details!

What are the changes?

Here is what Scott has to say:

To make a long story very short, when I first started writing software back in 1997, Visual Basic was a great programming platform that I used to create all my original software, but in the years to follow, Microsoft dropped support for VB6.  To be sure that our programs continue to run well into the future, make them more maintainable and easier to code future enhancements, I am in the process of rewriting my entire software package in C#.NET and Amateur Contact Log 4.0 is now complete!   Amateur Contact Log Version 4.0 is a total rewrite of Amateur Contact Log.  It has almost all the features supported in version 3.4 and lots of new ones that I think you’ll really enjoy!  Some of the new enhancements include:  

  • Fully networkable!  Whether you want to use AC Log for a DXPedition, or you just want to access your log from multiple PCs simultaneously at your home or club station, AC Log will now support multiple clients updating a single database, just like my Field Day and other contesting software!   
  • Lots of additional and customizable data fields.  
  • AC Log is as easy to use on first install as ever, but if you want to customize AC Log, it is now even easier to configure the main form to your taste for fonts, colors, layout, tab order and fields displayed!  
  • Improved analysis and display of needed DX spots stations.  
  • Bulk uploads and downloads to / from eQSL are now supported.  
  • Addition of HamQTH.com’s free callbook Internet lookup service.  
  • And lots more!    

AC Log 4.0 is Free to Registered Users!   As always, all of my software upgrades are free to registered users and AC Log 4.0 is no exception!  You can download the latest from:   http://www.n3fjp.com/aclog.html    

System Requirements:   Amateur Contact Log 4.0 requires Windows XP with Service Pack 3 or later.  It also requires the Microsoft .NET 4.0 client framework, which is likely already on your PC, but if not, the installer will install it for you automatically.  If you are running an operating system prior to XP, don’t worry, I’ll keep version 3.4 on the VB6 archive page here:  http://www.n3fjp.com/archivedVB6.html in case you ever need to reinstall it.    

Installation Steps:   AC Log 4.0 uses a completely different database structure, so it will not open your log file from 3.4 directly, but upgrading is a snap.  Simply:   -  Install AC Log 4.0. -  From your previous version of AC Log, click File > Export ADIF > Whole Log and save your file in a place that is easy for you to find on your hard drive. -  From version 4.0, click File > Import ADIF and select the ADIF file that you exported. -  If you have customized settings, you’ll need to reconfigure them, but you’ll find it to be a much easier process with even more flexibility in version 4.0!   By the way, AC Log 4.0 runs completely independently of the previous versions of AC Log, so if you are unsure if you want to upgrade, please go ahead and give it a try.  Your existing installation will not be altered in any way and you can continue with the previous version if you prefer it for any reason.  I think you will really like version 4.0 once you get a taste of it though!   For LoTW uploads from AC Log 4.0, you’ll need to run TQSL software version 1.14 or later.    

A Note to Blind Hams:   I’ve received reports from blind hams beta testing AC Log 4.0 that some screen readers are not doing as good a job identifying the fields as they did in the VB6 versions of AC Log.  I don’t have any screen reader software here and until I have the opportunity to investigate further, blind hams may want to stay with AC Log 3.4 for now.  AC Log 4.0 does continue the feature I programed in 3.4 of correctly reading the current field with wave files.    

Thanks so much for Testing and Input!   I want to extend a special thank you for all the testing, enhancement suggestions and input that so many of you offered during the development and testing phase of Amateur Contact Log 4.0.  You all have made this version far better than it would have been otherwise and I can’t thank you enough for all your help, patience and input!    

Enjoy!   So everyone, please give AC Log 4.0 a try and see what you think.  I hope that you enjoy it!     And in response to the questions we always receive when we neglect to include the following in our e-mail announcements…    

Package Upgrade Information…   If you have registered one or more individual programs and would like to upgrade to N3FJP’s Software Package or N3FJP’s Software Package and CD for full use of all our Amateur Radio software, we would be glad to apply the amount that you have registered so far as a credit towards that purchase. Please send us an e-mail directly and we’ll let you know your balance.   N3FJP’s Software Package includes approximately 50 programs for contesting, net management, general logging and other Amateur Radio related applications. In addition to full use of all these programs, registered package customers are also entitled to receive free passwords for any new software that is added to the package and free upgrades to existing programs. You’ll find all the details on the Register Now page at www.n3fjp.com.     

Here is a list of things I found good and bad about this software:

The Install:

This software installs as a separate program from ACL 3.x.  That means that you need to first save your existing log as an ADIF file.  The plus side of this is that nothing can go wrong and toast your log.  The bad side is you have to reconfigure by hand all options that have been added by yourself over time.  In reality, for me, this was not an issue.  I just copied down the old settings and changed them as needed.  About the only issue I had with it, was a very odd one, that 99% of the users will not have.  I use ACLog while running other programs that talk to the Icom 756 PRO III.  In the old ACLog, (3.x), I got a pair of screens telling me that problems existed, and to hit DONE when finished.  I would hit DONE, and all would work fine, save the Rig Control.  That was because I had a different program handling that, so no problem.  With the new software, the CW Setup comes defaulted on, in my old setup it was off.

Here is what would happen under 3.x:
  1. I would start S-Meter Lite.
  2. AC Log 4.x would tell me the port was in use
  3. I would accept the information with the DONE key
  4. All went well from there on.
Here is what happened under 4.x:
  1. I would start S-Meter Lite.
  2. AC Log 4.x would tell me the port was in use
  3. I would accept the information with the DONE key
  4. Every time I hit a key on the keyboard, I got the dialog box about COM PORT being used.

I killed rig control, and noticed the problem continued!  So I started killing everything that might talk to a com port…  I found CW, killed that, and all issues ended!  I restarted Rig Control, and the problem did not repeat, so it was the CW settings getting in the way.

To make a long story short, this fixed everything dealing with the transit from 3.x to 4.x.  I read in the ADIF file, and poof it was a log!  Next I used one of the new features!  Delete Dup contacts!  I removed 60 dups in 12K entries.  I then used the eQSL upload feature to upload the log to eQSL.  See my eQSL review here.

Operation:

The operation of the new version is about the same as the old version, (just a tad slower), but with a more features.  N3FJP mentions that some features have been removed, but for the life of me, I can’t locate them.  All of the old operational features seem intact, and the log functions as expected.  One of the things that scared me the first time, was the time it took to show the log after painting the screen once the program is started.  I have twelve thousand Q’s in the log, so I expect a bit of slowness…  However I get something like 2 to 4 seconds of blank screen after starting the application, and after it paints be empty log, before the actual contacts populate.

The Good:

Overall the program is a plus as fr as changes go.  If I had to pick one version, 3.x or 4.x, it would be 4.x, because of the better look and feel.  Speed is not a big loss for me, as a task can take milliseconds, or microseconds,  in either case it is there for me when I need it.  Scott has added backup to the software, something that is needed.  Also, the ability to get messages in real-time from the author for update warnings, etc.

Here are more features that are on the good side:

  • Easy install, just hit the install button and watch the lights.
  • Install protects previous version, if something goes wrong, you just uninstall the new version and try again, the old version is not touched in any way.
  • Remove Duplicate contact is new and wonderful.  I have twelve thousand contacts, and have wanted to remove dups for a while.  Took about 2 minutes.
  • Tracking of Worked All States, Worked All Counties, Worked All Countries, DXCC, VUCC, Grids, Zones, IOTAs, Lighthouses and many other achievements.
  • The new Icon looks better.
  • The opening credits are shorter.
  • A new feature to allow for a message from the author telling of new updates.
  • The addition of a “QSL By” field.  I have not been keeping track of paper cards because I did not want them mixed in with my awards via electronic means.  This additional way of tracking QSLs helps along this line.
  • The addition of HAM QTH as a source for call sign look-up, in addition to QRZ, and various other ways.

 

The Bad:

Overall the program is a bit slower than the original.  It loads slower, finds records slower, and in general does everything slightly slower than 3.x versions.  Not enough to condemn the software, but enough to curse at it now and then.  Next is by far the worst of all problems with version 4.  LoTW Support.

LoTW Support:
ACLog 4.x: LoTW upload screen

ACLog 4.x: LoTW upload screen

This is a bit different than it has been in the past.  ACLog 4.x uses tQSL 1.4x, as opposed to the older tQSL 1.3x.  tQSL1.4x supports direct uploading and signing of the log.  ACLog presents the results to tQSL, and tQSL uploads it.  tQSL 1.3x did not do this, ACLog 3.x preformed the upload functions.  This allowed ACLog 3.x to have a thermometer bar, showing upload status.  With the switch to tQSL 1.4x, ACLog can not provide the thermometer bar anymore.  This means that if you upload a large number of contacts, you hit the upload button, all you see is a small change in the status window for LoTW.  IMHO this should be dialog box, that dismisses itself, or the user can dismiss, when the process is finished.  The signing of large logs can take a LONG time, minutes in my case, and it is very disconcerting to see the hourglass sitting idle for so long.  Given Windows propensity to lock up, it makes me worried.  If a dialog box with a message were there, I would feel better about this.  The real issue is that tQSL does not provide to the calling software a marker to indicate where it is in signing the logs, or if it does, ACLog ignores it.  I do not know which, but it is bad…  My screen which looks like the one on the left, stays up for way too long, then the tQSL software puts up a dialog box BEHIND the ACLog 4.x screen.  If you don’t spot it on the task bar, then you will sit forever.  This assumes that you have a duplicate entry of course.  On the other hand, to not be so hard on ACLog 4.x, during normal operation it is fine, the time involved is relatively short, and for the most part I see the dialog box put up by tQSL 1.4x, so I only sit here wondering what is happening once a month or so…  All in all the is the largest flaw in ACLog 4.x.

From a bad standpoint, that is about all I can find, and I am stretching here to list everything I can think of.  Overall this is still a well written program, and the only bad issue I can really find is the tQSL integration.  Given that tQSL was just re-written as well, it would be good if the tQSL people offered some indicators to the calling program for its state.  Only a bit of time will tell if this comes to pass.

02/17/14 Addendum: The new tQSL, (2.x and above), corrects the lack of a thermometer bar, and hence removes all of the above as a problem with AClog 4.x.

How does it compare to the older version?:

It is better, slightly slower, and better overall.  If I had to pick one, it would be the latest version.  N3FJP has managed to keep feature creep to a minimum here, and his software is better for that effort!  The look is still clean, the setup is still good, the install is simple, and all in all it keeps track of my log.  Further it keeps track of my received QSLs by who verified them, eQSL, LoTW, or Paper…  Finally!!  For 25 bucks, this is one of the best logging programs you will find, regardless of cost.  It is simple to operate, yet complex in how it works, this is a very difficult balance to keep, and ACLog 4.x maintains that balance, as ACL 3.x did.  I would certainly recommend this if you are looking for a computer version of a logging program, it seems simple to operate, and IMHO is the best of the Windows programs out there…  Try the software for the 45 day trial period, I think you will buy it if you do.

Recommendation:

If you are looking for an electronic logging program, give Amateur Contact Log, (ACL), a look.  ACL is a full featured, simple to use, logging program, which runs under Microsoft Windows.  It seems stable, I have used it for years, and never had an issue with it.  Offers backup options, keeps track of who approved your QSL cards, does spotting, and in general is just handy to have on hand.  I use it daily, and have for a very long time now.  The learning curve is simple, the install is fast…  What more can one say about a piece of software.  It will be the best $25.00 you have spent on ham radio.  I would highly recommend this software to anyone.

7 Responses to Review of N3FJP’s AC Log 4.x

  1. Thomas Bewick (K2BEW)

    Can’t get it work under wine in Linux. Have emailed the Yahoo group and no one has an answer on how to. Any ideas?

    • Dave

      Hi Tom,
      I run Debian, and within the Debian environment I run a program called “Virtual Box”. This creates a virtual machine within the Debian environment itself. You then install whatever OS you want to the virtual machine. I have found nothing that won’t run under Windows using that setup. You even have to use IE to do updates to Windows…

      • Thomas Bewick (K2BEW)

        Thanks for the info John. I don’t have a copy of windows to install into VB at the moment, and I’m not sure I want to go through all that just to get one program working. I am now looking at just using the native Linux CQRLOG program for logging. I was just hoping to continue to use ACL since I had it on an old little netbook in the shack before. 73, Tom

        • Dave

          I have been looking at CQRLog as well, it looks to be an almost perfect replacement for those of us running Linux. BTW, the name is Dave.

          • Thomas Bewick (K2BEW)

            Sorry on the name, I was looking at the comment from John, W4PAH just above my response as I was typing. CQRlog is installed on my box now and in using it a little since yesterday it actually looks more full featured than ACL, Just wish I had not spent the money on ACL just a month ago before I decided to change computers and OS, Hi Hi. But I can still use it on the netbook when I am traveling, it is a good program and you wrote a nice review.
            Nice Blog.
            73, Tom K2BEW

  2. John W4PAH

    The features that were removed include the ability to use a non-internet based FCC info file for callsign lookups; you are required to purchase the Buckmaster CDs if you want to have a non-internet based callsign lookup.

    Also, the software no longer allows for parallel port CW keying. I had to take my old parallel port keyer apart and build a new one for serial port keying. Works fine, but that’s a step I had to take to maintain this feature I use quite often.

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