Making Windows 8 Work for Radios

Ever since Windows 8 came out life has not been simple for folks programming radios. The problems were many:

  • The Windows 8 tiled interface bothers a lot of people.
  • Drivers for USB programming cables wouldn’t work in Windows 8.
  • Programming software for some radios wouldn’t recognize Windows 8 as a supported operating system.

At least, those are the problems I’ve encountered and heard of.

As of today I have them all solved for my little corner of amateur radio and more.

The Windows 8 Interface

This isn’t a radio thing, but it’s a Really Big Thing for many people: they hate, with a passion, the Windows 8 tiled start screen. They want their start menu back.

Windows 8.1 makes that a little better, but not much. (Windows 10 promises more improvement, but that’s a ways away.)

The solution is simple and free: install Classic Shell. It gives you your Start menu back. In fact, you can choose whether you want your Start Menu to look like Windows 7’s, Windows XP’s or even earlier versions of Windows. Run Classic Shell and chances are you won’t even realize that you’re not running Windows 7 most of the time.

And it makes a number of other user interface customizations available as well, but the Start Menu is the big thing. If that’s what’s got you annoyed about Windows 8 then install Classic Shell immediately.

USB Cables (aka the Wouxun Problem)

I have a Wouxun KG-UV2D. It’s programmed using a USB cable, and I’ve been programming it quite successfully with Windows 7 for some time.

Wouxun Cable

New Wouxun Programming Cable

The problem is that I’ve never been able to find drivers for the USB cable that work with Windows 8. Found lots and lots of “try this”, or “download this” kind of solutions, and have had a 100% failure rate with all of them. I kept Windows 7 specifically so that I could program my Wouxun, and that was becoming a pain.

Then I stumbled into “USB Programming Cable for Wouxun Radios“, from powerwerx.com – a company from which I’ve purchased before. Most importantly what I noticed was that Windows 8 support was called out explicitly. I placed a $20 bet and ordered the cable.

Turns out that Windows 8 support must be quite the sales feature: it says so right there on the cable!

I ignored the instructions that came with the cable, and simply plugged it in to see if Windows would install the proper drivers on its own. It did. After its usual “Installing device…” machinations, a new COM port appeared on my machine:

New COM port

New COM device – COM3 – for the Wouxun programming cable

Two things of note:

  • It’s not the Prolific chipset – this appears to be from Silicon Labs.
  • No yellow exclamation point that we’ve all come to know and hate!

And sure enough, the Wouxon programming software – KG-UV Commander in my case – worked just great in Windows 8:

KG-UV Reading

KG-UV Commander reading my Wouxun radio

One down.

Software Versions (aka the Yaesu problem)

When I plugged in the programming cable for my Yaesu FT-8900R drivers were installed correctly and it seemed I was good to go.

Until I tried to install the software that Yaesu provides. The error boiled down to “You need Windows XP or better” to run the software. Now, you might think that it was making a value judgement on whether Windows 8 was “better” or not, but in reality the installer simply failed to detect the operating system version correctly and thus didn’t recognize it as a supported OS.

That software had always bothered me anyway – it was pricey, and its copy protection was a little over the top. Personally radio programming software should be easy to install and run – particularly when it’s provided by the radio manufacturer.

What I found was an alternative: FTB8900 – available from http://www.g4hfq.co.uk/. While not free, it was inexpensive ($15) and exceptionally well reviewed out on eham.net. Sure enough – it installed on my Windows 8 machine quickly, easily, and read my radio contents without hesitation:

FTB8900

FTB8900 Programming Software after loading the contents of my Yaesu FT-8900R

It looks like there are several different programs for several different models of Yaesu.

Two down.

A Prolific cable that worked

I’d also recently purchased a Uniden Bearcat scanner that came with a programming cable – that needed an old style RS-232 9-pin connector. I had an older USB-to-RS232 cable, but it – like so many – failed to install drivers in Windows 8.

So I found another out on Amazon: TRENDnet USB 2.0 to RS-232 DB9 Serial Converter.

Interestingly enough when this arrived Windows 8 installed a driver just fine, and it turns out to be the Prolific chipset:

Prolific Driver in Windows 8

Prolific Driver in Windows 8

And the programming software worked just great.

My understanding is that the problem with Prolific is not the driver, but rather knock-off cables that the driver no longer supports. Get an actual official cable with a real prolific chipset in it, and the driver should work. In this case the cable has exactly that and should serve as a great general purpose RS-232 cable.

Made on a Mac?

I do have to come clean about one thing: all this testing was done on my Macs. One a MacBook Pro laptop and the other a Mac Pro desktop. In both cases I was running Windows 8.1 in a virtual machine using VirtualBox.

Windows on a Mac

Windows 8, in a window, on a Mac

I believe that’s a more difficult setup than just using a Windows 8 PC directly.

The bottom line is that since I was able to easily make it work in this environment, making it work on a “normal” PC should work as well.