Xastir—Open-Source Client for the Automatic Packet Reporting System

What do search and rescue, Amateur Radio and Linux have in common?
Tactical Calls for Special Events

A very useful recent addition to Xastir is the capability to assign tactical call signs to stations and to transmit them across RF or the Internet to other APRS clients (Xastir and APRS+SA are the only two clients that currently decode and display tactical call assignments).

We added this capability just prior to the Seattle Marathon in November 2008 and used it to great effect at that event. It allowed us to assign call signs, such as LEAD and TAIL, to APRS stations helping in the event, without having to change their tracker configurations. This aids reliability when we're not tweaking tracker settings before the event. The old “if it ain't broke, don't fix it” method really does work when dealing with mobile trackers. Don't touch a working tracker unless you have to.

Xastir also was used to good effect in the New York City Marathon. Officials love it for its instant and eye-catching tactical display. You'll see them hanging around the Xastir display when they're not otherwise engaged.

SAR tactical call signs provide similar advantages, assigning TEAM 1, HELO 2, DOGTEAM 3 and similar monikers to teams in the field. Special features have been added to Xastir to support SAR operations.

Xastir's Future

From its meager beginnings as a Linux-specific application, Xastir has grown significantly in capability but is still tied to OpenMotif or Lesstif for its widget set. Xastir is a large multithreaded and multiprocess program. Developers have talked about splitting Xastir into an SQL database back end plus a dæmon with multiple clients to handle user interface functions. Such clients could use different widget sets, such as Qt, GTK+ or WxWidgets, with correspondingly better integration with modern-day window managers. Rewriting to use Qt without the X11 layers underneath might allow for running on Qtopia embedded devices. In any case, whether we refactor Xastir, it has a bright future as its user base continues to grow and useful features are added continually. See you on the mailing list!

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