There are lots of software choices out there for you computerized scannists who have chosen the OptoScan series of computer interfaces for Radio Shack Pro-2005 / 2006 / 2035 / 2042 series scanners. Most of them work very well, but are designed to operate a wide variety of radios, and unfortunately most of them require increasingly more powerful computers. And then there's Probe...
Ever since I reviewed Probe 2.0 a couple of years ago, I've sampled various other software packages for my Pro-2035 / OS-535 combination, but I've yet to find a software package that can beat Probe in its overall convenience and flexibility. Unlike other programs, Probe was designed specifically for the OptoScan 456 and 535 boards, and it runs well on just about any PC-compatible computer, even old 4.77MHz 8088 models. And, while it is a DOS program rather than Windows, I have never had any trouble running Probe from either Windows 3.1 or Windows 95. It scans a little more slowly from Windows, and slows down even more when another program is active, but it continues to work just fine.
Probe is still very easy to use, almost intuitive, with easy-to-use menus offering various choices for program operation and scanner control. The scanning screen (shown in figure 1) is very easy to read and understand. Probe uses a true database engine, with the scanner control functions designed around an actual database program. This allows you to use the database for scanning as well as file management; each scanning group is capable of 99,000 frequencies, with a program total of 396,000,000 channels (and if anyone can fill up that many, I salute you).
Probe has many useful features, including the Hyperbank feature introduced in version 3. Hyperbank allows you to "memorize" a particular grouping of scan banks under one of the function keys F1 through F10. For example, F1 can be set for "Normal", F2 for "Fire only", F3 for "Police Only", F4 for "Fire Tac" and so on. This makes it really easy to instantly select a specific scanning target when something really interesting happens that you would like to focus on.
In addition to the excellent existing features, Probe 4.0 introduces a new group of features. One of the most interesting of these is Hypersettings. This is an addition to the Hyperbank feature which allows you to change any of the 54 different scan settings and memorize them to the desired function key along with the chosen bank settings. I really found this feature to be useful, as it allowed me to make various changes in the delay timing and other settings, and set them up for a specific Hyperbank only!
Probe also now has a Priority Channel feature, as well as very nice new PL / DPL tone features. The Priority feature allows one to set a specific frequency as the priority, and also set any desired time interval for priority channel checking. In addition to the Carrier Squelch / PL / DPL tone capabilities offered previously, one can now set tone code 1.0 in the "Tone"field; this will cause a frequency to become active for carrier squelch only, which allows monitoring only the users on a frequency who use carrier squelch, while blocking out users with PL / DPL tones. This is a really excellent feature. I had been experiencing some public safety intermod on some of my railroad frequency entries, so I added the tone code 1.0 to all of my railroad frequency entries, and thereby eliminated the problem! Cool!
Some other useful new or improved features are Custom Delay, which allows one to set a custom delay time for each frequency entry; an improved Manual Timing function, which allows assigning a specific CTCSS / DCS tone or carrier squelch to a manually tuned frequency and also displays DTMF tones that come in; the ability to change the "Templock" setting on the fly while scanning (the changed Templock time is saved to the Settings file); a Total Frequency Counter, which shows a count of the total number of frequencies being scanned as well as the number of active frequencies in a bank; and a Mute function, which allows the user to mute or unmute audio. This is a really handy feature that saves having to monkey around with the volume control when, for example, the phone rings.
Probe 4.0 also has improved FCC database importing. When importing data from Mr. Scanner, Betty Bearcat and other similar frequency file CDs, Probe imports more data, and allows better use of it, than other programs. Service codes are now handled more efficiently, so that if a service code is not available or is not described, it is noted as such in the Service Code field. Also added to the database features is the capability to import or export your Probe data files in the UFDBF format, which has become a de facto standard for database file exchange.
Another new feature is Compare / Copy. When copying frequency data from one group into another, this new feature allows the imported and existing records to be compared for duplicates. Duplicated records highlighted and new records are not, which makes it very easy to go through and delete those records you do not want to keep. This makes exchanging Probe files with others really easy, since you no longer have to sit around and manually compare all the files you just imported against the ones you already had. You can then use the new file as your main frequency file.
The search file creation and frequency viewers have also been improved. The "Create search file" utility now permits the user to delete duplicates of frequencies that are already found in existing frequency banks; the Frequency Viewer (shown in figure 2) now allows the user to move to a specific bank at the touch of a key when editing frequency entries, as well as a dupe check feature for new record entry. If the program finds a duplicate record, it allows one to view that record instead of entering a new one.
Probe also has some nifty startup features. Introduced in version 3, the startup option automatically starts scanning when the program is started, and now Version 4 takes this a step further by allowing the user to specify which scanning group is used on startup.
All things considered, I'd have to say Probe is still the King of the Hill when it comes to OptoScan 456 / 535 software. Its many features and ease of use make it a real pleasure to use!