Does FlexRadio have any future plans to create a hardware upgrade pathway?

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Apple does this with selected products. At some point in the future I will want to move up to the 6700 from the 6500. I would prefer to trade in my existing 6500 (which could be reconditioned and resold at a mild discount but would carry a full warranty and be equivalent to the 6500 radios being sold new at that time). This would save me the complexity of selling it privately "As Is" to another individual, and make the acquisition of the 6700 - even a refurbished 6700 - more likely.
Thank you,
Justin
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Justin Smith

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Posted 4 years ago

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Jim Gilliam

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Ever consider having two 6500's?
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Dale KB5VE

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They will take a trade in I believe but most have not had a issue in selling the 6500 if they wanted to. Now when you said hardware upgrade I thought you were talking about improvements by the means of hardware changes. Flex encountered a heat issue with the 6700 might developers it is taxed more so they made a recall on the older models and upgraded them. Otherwise I do not foresee hardware upgrades .
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Tim - W4TME, Customer Experience Manager

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We are really not setup to sell used or previously owned hardware so we do not have a trade-in program.  Even if we were, the trade in value we would have to offer would most likely be less than what you could get for it selling it on the open market, as we would need to recoup our costs for the refurbishing and marketing.

We will however conditionally take a radio back for credit towards a higher model within the first 30 days of ownership.
(Edited)
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Mike Whatley

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The analogy with Apple Computer is ridiculous! Apple computer is a commodity firm and the richest company in the US valued near $700 billion with 72000 or 98000 employees depending on what source you prefer.


Flex is a small privately owned firm with less than 20 employees. Flex is rightly not in the business of helping customers sell their used models. It's an unnecessary expense on already thin margins.


Flex should stay focused on their core mission.
(Edited)
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Walt - KZ1F

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I think it is 31 but your point is still valid, and I agree. This is why, to Burt's point below, when I have been most vocal it has been directed towards those that worship at the FRS alter rather than FRS itself. I do believe if we treated them more like a company (rather than bestest friend forever) and they treated us like a customer base (rather than being bullied by unrealistic expections or lulled by irrational exuberance) they would have a more sustainable profitable future. At the end of the day, I think that is what we, the customers, should want for them.
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Burt Fisher

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I can't figure how Flex makes money selling to hams, plus providing the best customer service I have seen.
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Bill -VA3WTB

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Burt I don't plan on answering for Flex, but here is my take on your question. Flex radio was born out of one question, what if!. It is hard to produce a fine product that effects this hobby so profoundly as Flex has. I don't see anyone at Flex ever padding there wallets with millions of buck doing what they do.

Considering the dedication and the hours spent for all of them I think for most at Flex this is more a labour of love.

Hmm, I feel a new article coming. lol
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Burt Fisher

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I have never seen any company or any other organization  with this type of customer service. Can you guys buy Comcast? They need a makeover.
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Jim Gilliam

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The personnel at Flex are comprised of the kind of people that made this country great. It gives me hope.


Jim, K6QE 

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Walt - KZ1F

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Would that be radical right wing fanatics?  I never got that impression.
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Steve K9ZW, Elmer

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Radical Technologists with Passion, rather. 


(Edited)
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Chris Tate - N6WM, Elmer

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All being said..  a suggestion to create.. perhaps a flex 6600, one that comes with 1 SCU and a bay to add a second SCU.  either that or an external SCU box that can add a second SCU and diversity to the 6500.  both viable products that could and would be great gateway devices upgradeable to the top level. 
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Jim Gilliam

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What would be the difference than just buying a second 6500?
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Chris Tate - N6WM, Elmer

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also Diversity Receive.
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Bill -VA3WTB

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This Is something Steve said a while back.
 we looked at making all the processing a plug in module for the FLEX-6000 when it was designed.  There were a few issues such as:  1) there are a large number of high-speed lines that that would have to go across connectors.  This requires the use of connectors that preserve signal integrity at high speed which are generally fairly expensive.  You often need something like double the connections in a connector system than you would on a PCB because of all of the ground routing requirements (on a PCB you just use a ground plane and a power plane).   Then there's all of the extra work to route across the connectors, verify signal integrity, work any issues, etc.  2) With connectors there are always mechanical concerns -- will the connector fail over time, will the contacts corrode, will there be soldering issues in the factory, will the connector dislodge in a drop event, etc. (reliability)  3) You have to comprehend what you might need in the future ... that can be hard.

We weighed all of this and decided it was best not to incorporate plug in modules for all these reasons including cost, time-to-market, etc.  There are thousands of decisions made in a design process and we try to make the decisions that are in both our best interests.

Also, the key reason to do this is to enable the swap to larger/faster computing components as they become available.  For a PC software person, you just drop in the next processor and you are ready with more power.  It's never this simple in the embedded world.  We always have to trade off the effort to incorporate a new part vs. the advantage of the new part.  We put very current parts in the FLEX-6000 radios -- they are all either the latest generation or one generation back currently, over two years after the design.  This is decidedly not the case for many competitive products.

There is extreme flexibility in the hardware and software in this radio.  If someone said -- we need this radio to be a 5MHz IF radio for a microwave station -- so it needs to receive and transmit a 5MHz swath of data, this is completely possible in the FLEX-6000.  It just requires software.  If someone said "we need only one receiver, but it needs diversity and it needs to continually attempt to decode 20 different digital modulation schemes, trying to figure out which scheme it sees," it's just software.  These two are not likely requests from the ham community, but other things may come up.  Things like a new digital mode that requires 20kHz of bandwidth on HF, etc.  We'd like to be able to do these things when they come up.

And yes, we'll build new radios in the future too.  And over time, they'll have more computing power.  But we've engineered SmartSDR to run on different platforms so we are hoping that if there are things we do in the future on some new platform, that those things will also work on the existing platform whenever possible -- but that's a long time away.
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Chris Tate - N6WM, Elmer

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Indeed.  all makes perfect sense and certainly does not bode well for an expansion of the 6500, but a future model that is priced in the range of the 6500 that could accept a plug in module containing another SCU that was snapped into place..on a pre designed bus would truly be a great product that would leverage on the success strategies of other top tier platforms while keeping this one uniquely Flex.   Id buy it. 
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Joe, KQ1Q

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Re h/w upgradeability and user-serviceable parts, this is an old and long-debated design issue.

During the Apollo Moon Program, NASA intensely debated whether the Lunar Module should have field-replaceable electronic modules. Some felt that serviceability by the astronauts might be a life-and-death matter, so they should make all electronics with access panels, racks and connectors and include in-flight spares. Also plug-in electronics would allow upgrades due to design improvements between manufacturing and flight. Money was no object, nor was "planned obsolescence" -- they simply wanted the best reliability, and every extra ounce and cubic inch was critical.

NASA found that designing electronics for field maintenance hurts weight, volume and reliability. Providing easy access to electronics limits packaging density. Including extra space for racks and connectors hurts reliability. They ultimately packed all electronics tight as possible, and "potted" the wires and modules in place with an epoxy-like adhesive.

Fast forward to today, and the basic principle still applies. However it's greatly magnified due to extreme clock rates, miniscule lead pitch, thermal issues,lead capacitance, etc. In CPU board design there's a big debate over going from LGA to BGA mounts which would eliminate the ability to field replace a CPU:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_grid_array
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ball_grid_array

There's a saying in mechanical engineering: "complexity breeds failure". Minimizing mechanical complexity by eliminating connectors and access pathways is a valid engineering choice, even though it hurts serviceability and upgradeability. With things like FPGAs, to a degree the hardware can be updated under software command. Maybe that's the best way forward.
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Chris Tate - N6WM, Elmer

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Well.. With all due respect to the Apollo program(and the heros involved) Amateur Radio's are not lunar modules and life and death are not a concern here.. but value is.  My example would be this. I first purchased a K3 in 2008 as a base model, added features like a second receiver, dvr, improved microelectronics, mutliple firmware updates and add on modules.  It still works great today, and is a completely different and vastly more versatile rig that it was when I first purchased it.  I was able to get in at the ground level, and improve the radio components, a purchase at a time to its top flagship class.  this versatility could be a way to grow with a platform.. and add value for its operators/owners and minimize on large purchase pocket book pain.   I would like to see this ability in the Flex (shall i dare to say flexibility? hi hi)  
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IW7DMH, Enzo

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Before thinking to hw upgrades let Flex boys get out most of the power we have in our rigs.
As intermediate hardware upgrade I would like to see a low noise fan kit and a rugged box for 6300 portable operations. Something strong like Marshall amplified speakers. :)
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Walt - KZ1F

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I am still waiting for Kenwood to upgrade my TS-530 to a TS-990. I am not holding my breath. I suspect the better business model is to put out a product (car, washing machine, ham radio) with a given life expectancy. It is healthier for a company to sell more products, not more daughterboards.
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Chris Tate - N6WM, Elmer

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This is not a relevant argument.  and that is why you dont see TS-990's in most power user shacks.  You see K3's.  I would like to see more flex signature rigs there...  Lets take current hardware.. TS-590...  $1500   TS-990   $7000   neither has  the capability of any flex.


 The flex meets or exceeds a great deal of the elecraft performance features. (will take some more work and listening to close in on a few more) But at the $4000 range some ability to provide expansion blocks would open a lot of doors. Elecraft achieved this by designing a rock solid modular platform with a solid and dependable upgrade path.  And believe me they have been successful.

 Know your competition.  learn from your competition. exceed your competition.  take your place at the top.
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Walt - KZ1F

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I agree Chris, I only used ts-990 as it is the same manufacturer as the 530. Yes, indeed if I had another (or different) radio, it would be a K3. Actually if you look at the numbers the K3 and Flex 6700 have large areas of overlap. And I really hesitate to say this as I wasn't in the room at the time and if I was it would be under NDA, but think about the product mgmt differences between the 1500, 3000, and 5000 (the computer is the radio) and the 6000 (the radio is the radio and the computer is the GUI). Maybe they could upgrade our memory ... or sell us a new radio. FRS is in business to make money, not do charity work. And, since I am not an employee I shouldn't be talking about what I perceive to be there business plan. Suffice it to say, they will not stay in business making our (the customer's) radios infinitely upgradable. Just as there was a successor to the 530, there will, I hope, be a successor to the 6000 series. To think otherwise is irrational exuberance.
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Jim Gilliam

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Five years from now, the hardware used in Flex will be outdated. Just like the hardware used in the 3000/5000 is passé. Why build around antiquity?
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Bill -VA3WTB

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As Steve said above, the complexity of the radio does not lend itself to a module design. 
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Jim Gilliam

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Seems to me complexity is not the point. Modules could be built using Ethernet to effect various functions. The point is for what? Why not just build another radio?
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Bill -VA3WTB

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Read Steve's reply above.
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Joe, KQ1Q

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Further on this, yes you could theoretically add some kind of mezzanine board inside a 6000 series. There are even commercial examples of plug-in cards using the same Virtex-6 FPGA that Flex uses: http://www.acromag.com/catalog/815?gclid=CjwKEAjw6Z2pBRCmvaXq6d7FjUoSJAAc5Lri4EmDBJW524tbygZ27Bm-ai_...

That one card is $12,000. At that scale you can use connectors and design methods to make it work. 

The parts in the 6000 series which would theoretically need updating are the FPGA, the ADC, the TI DaVinci DSP, and the ARM A8 CPU.  As currently designed they are placed and signals routed for optimal performance, noise and heat characteristics. To gather those parts on a plug-in card (or cards) would require a major redesign, with knock-on effects regarding cooling, electrical noise, etc.

The entire user base would take the penalty for this in terms of higher cost, protracted development and additional testing - all to serve a fairly small % who might want that feature. 

Regardless of the physical and electrical design, they cannot be upgraded individually without an underlying bus and socket architecture which supports this. FRS engineers would have to develop and test that, vs working on the radio itself. It's a lot more than just putting them on a plug-in board.

On top of that, the design would then be constrained by the interfaces used on the plug-in boards. What if the next ARM CPU or Virtex FPGA was hugely better but incompatible with the daughterboard design? Intel is under at least some pressure from the gigantic ecosystem to maintain limited pin compatibility for certain CPU sockets in selected cases. FRS and the tiny Flex user base have zero leverage to obtain this.

So it's not that it cannot be done, but there's a cost to doing it. This is a very old issue in electronic design. With older designs it was more achievable. As integration levels increase and clock frequencies, lead pitch and thermal factors become ever more difficult, it's hard to do -- especially in a consumer-priced, limited-production embedded system.

It appears even Intel will quit providing socketed CPUs from 2016 onward -- they will be Ball Grid Array soldered in, for reasons stated above. If it's so easy to provide a cheap, reliable daughterboard for ultra-high-speed components, motherboard manufacturers will do that then. However I seriously doubt it, despite having far greater resources than FRS.
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Jim Gilliam

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Has anyone tried using two 6300/6500/6700 Flex radios at the same time over the same LAN?  
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Walt - KZ1F

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Tim, do you folks simultaneously have multiple SSDR instances, same machine, connected to multiple radios. In other words, computer a, SSDR instance 1 connected to radio 1, computer a, SSDR instance 2 connected to radio 2. Two SSDR instances, one flexlib dll?
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Jim Gilliam

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It would appear that one can attach multiple radios to the LAN but only one radio per customer. In other words, one computer would run one radio while another computer would run another one, etc.


Jim

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Walt - KZ1F

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That's consistent with what I suspected. I just wanted Tim to differentiate between "gee, nobody's don't that" and "no, that will not work with FlexLib (multi user mode)". Another use case but different is CRT, a program could link to the static runtime library or link to the dynamic runtime library. In the former case the exe is bound, forever, to the runtime environment it needs but it is bloated. In the later case the exe is dynamically linked to the runtime where the exe then is very tiny, relative to it having been statically linked. But should the user change deliberately or accidentally, that CRT, the applications dynamically linked to it may fail to run subsequent to that.
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Tim - W4TME, Customer Experience Manager

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Only one instance of SmartSDR can run under Windows at one time and only one instance of SmartSDR can connect to a radio at one time (single user mode)
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Walt - KZ1F

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Thanks Tim.
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Jim Gilliam

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I find Tim's answer unclear. Perhaps the question can be phrased differently:  If there are multiple client computers on the LAN and multiple radios connected to the LAN can each of these client computers operate separate radios simultaneously? Or can only one radio be operated at a time even though multiple radios and client computers are connected to the LAN?
(Edited)
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Walt - KZ1F

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Jim, the radio is just an endpoint, much like a tablet, phone, laptop, desktopm printer. A session is one endpoint (address:port) connecting to another endpoint (address:port). Think of it like a small corporate network, that one computer sending print output to a network attached printer doesn't interfere with another computer in ssh session to yet a third. I believe that is how FRS tests. Each Flex would have it's own IP address so even though the ports in use would be identical, the endpoints would be different.
The radios would likely need their own antenna, that could be an issue of course they could be connected to signal generators or dummy loads. Having two transmitters fire up on the same piece of coax would likely cause issues. I never tried that.
Furthermore, I think what prevents that is in the code. I've connected to the radio while SSDR was running on another machine. That was my own program connecting from Linux and SSDR running on..you guessed it, Windows. In fact, if you want to see some of the traffic sent from the radio, telnet to that ip address  port 4992 and just let it sit. You'll see requests made to the radio and responses back from the radio all while SSDR is running and you are either in SSB, CW, DIGI to another station. It's really kind of interesting and would you a good idea of the actual tcp traffic flowing. But, telnet is not SSDR.
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Jim Gilliam

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Any one out there who can explain this in English?
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Walt - KZ1F

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Jim, That just hurts my feelings. I am sure you didn't mean it but....

;-)
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Chris Tate - N6WM, Elmer

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1 instance of SSDR on 1 computer can connect to 1 radio.  2 radios would require 2 computers since only 1 instance of ssdr can run on a computer.

bottom line
2 radios  2 Windows computers at this time.  
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Steve K9ZW, Elmer

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If a third-party worked out an upgrade program where a ham would basically put a purchase sized deposit on a radio and pay a small monthly fee, with the right to later "buy-up" to a higher level radio, would this interest people?

Would think there would need to be a buy-out for either when they move up to a Flex-6700 or decide they no longer have an upgrade interest.

Thinking this would parallel some of the RPO (Rental-Purchase Option) agreements we see for major equipment.

The monthly would be needed to fund the administration costs.

Thinking out loud here, but certainly could see buying 50-100 radios for a program if the ROI bettered what the bank offers (which should be easy enough).

Thoughts?

Steve K9ZW
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Walt - KZ1F

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I do too. I pretty much hesitated to mention planned obsolescence as raising that, well recognised business practice, might unleash a backlash from those  denying FRS would do such a thing, especially since they are BFF's with some of the folks here and folks at FRS might blame me for starting that. I think that is what is behind this thread, hey, can I get a 7700 for just a small upgrade charge? You can have my 6700 back. If they are smart, and I know they are, they are designing it right now. Elecraft is also designing the K4 right now as well, ditto Kenwood, Yaesu, and Icom. The only constant in this multiverse is change.
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Jim Gilliam

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I think Flex will see it will be pretty much like the old Linksys routers. All the hardware was there but user groups popped up and took the router too new unimagined limits. I see the same thing with the 7000. let other groups who want to be "stars" write the software/firmware, and let Flex sit back and concentrate on the hardware.



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Walt - KZ1F

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Jim, funny you should say that. I just finished saying that, sort of, in another thread. Is LinkSys still around or did they 'invent' a technology but lost in the ensuing battle for supremacy of that technology? As I've said in the past, FRS entered a existing race by, arguably, one upping the existing players (Kenwood, Yaesu, Icom, and Elecraft, which recently did the same thing). The business motivation for Flex now is to stay in the lead position.They may or may not be successful. I doubt the aforementioned players in the radio market will graciously cede dominance in the field. That is good for Amateur Radio Operators everywhere. Let the games continue!
(Edited)
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Jim Gilliam

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Regarding Linksys, they sold the some of  their rights to Belkin who recently introduced a very fine router the WRT1900AC of which I am the proud owner. However, they have yet to open the flood gates to open source firmware development. However, the core firmware isn't all that bad as I see Flex migrating and to eventuallty opening it up to sell radios. A case in point is the writer of HRD, Simon Brown. He spends a lot of time developing software for many of the more popular SDR receivers. Maybe some day he will put his fangs into the Flex. He is an extremely talented programmer.


Jim

(Edited)
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Walt - KZ1F

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Isn't that what FRS did with PSDR? But in that model, PSDR was the radio. In the SSDR model the radio is nicely tucked under the chassis with a finite amount of memory. I, actually, don't see that happening, opening the Linux source to the radio logic itself. What if, however, they open the FlexLib interface above the tcp/ip to the actually radio logic and maintain that in the, for lack of a better word, 7000 series. In this way anyone who writes or rewrites the SSDR would have a protected investment and new cmds would be added to the radio where there is a loosely coupled GUI. Personally, I think the lowest common denominator (cmd line) interface is unnecessarily expensive, vs a REST base interface where the radio would emit something that the open interface could immediate instantiate. The command line approach requires parsing on 2 ends. In the REST or WSDL approach neither side would need to constantly be parsing.  In other words, the SSDR facsimile wouldn't have to construct a Radio or Panadapter, or Meter object they would just 'materialize' and be directly mutable. This is a pretty much common model in Java, C# etc. Actually that is what I was originally intending but without intimate knowledge of the objects and Vita constructs that would take too long, so it is V2. But with that comes an incredibly open interface. Any language would immediately have access to the actual objects inside the radio. For me to do that it would be a shim layer on top of cmd line interface. If FRS put that INSIDE the box, now that would be awesome. This is the advantage of being (semi)retired. I've got the time to evolve this. From FRS's perspective, it is not a critical path item. Now I think about it, it isn't clear there wouldn't be an incentive for them to do that with the 6000, assuming there was enough headroom in the box, or encouraging someone to do it for them. Look at the model used in HTML5 for the media control, one of the constructors passes in a Stream....voila, a graphical widget directly listening to the radio or, in my case, one level of indirection away from the radio.  I'm liking it, this is why it is good to talk about this stuff. I was kinda hoping to have this conversation with inside of FRS but, we play the hand we're dealt.
(Edited)

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