With more and more people joining the Computerized Scannist Brigade, the variety of scanning software out there has become almost incredible in scope and complexity. Most of these packages work quite well indeed, but continue to suffer the drawback of being designed to operate a bewildering variety of radios, with the attendant drawbacks and shortcomings for a particular type of radio. And then there's Probe, which continues it's march of progress...
Over the years, I've sampled a variety of software packages for my Pro-2035 / OS-535 combination, but none has yet come even remotely close to beating Probe for convenience and flexibility. Probe was designed specifically for the OptoScan 456 and 535 boards, and it runs well on just about any PC-compatible computer, even old 4.77 MHz 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 95/98. While Probe scans more slowly under Windows, and slows down even more when another program is active, it continues to scan just fine. The slowdown under Windows is a Windows problem more than anything else, and can be minimized by careful experimentation with settings. You'll need to tinker with your Windows comm port and Probe settling time settings, but there is still a slowdown of sorts with Windows 95/98. After tinkering with my settings, I generally get a scan speed that is about 20-25% slower than the DOS scan speed, which isn't bad.
Probe 5.0 introduces a new group of excellent features to go along with the powerful feature set carried over from version 4. One of the most basic of these is 38400 baud support, which allows blazingly fast scanning; with my dedicated radio computer (a Pentium 100 with 16mb RAM), I usually get a scan speed of 110+ channels per second when running under DOS with a baud rate of 38400 baud.
Two of the most useful new features are the "Limit Modulation" and "Limit No Modulation" functions. These limit the amount of time spent on an active frequency based on the presence of or lack of modulation. This is an excellent search tool, since one will spend less time monitoring birdies and paging noises. These two functions can also automatically "Templock" (temporarily lock out) a frequency for a user-specified period of time.
Two other useful features are the Autolock and Automark hitcount features. Autolock will automatically lock out a frequency entry and mark it's entry in the database once a predefined number of hits occur. Automark is similar, but instead of locking out the frequency it simply marks the entry in the database; it includes an "Exact Tone Only" feature that will only mark a specific CTCSS / DCS tone on a particular frequency rather than all entries for that frequency. These features are especially useful while searching for new frequencies.
There is also a new "Minimum Airtime" function. This feature logs only those frequencies which are active for at least a minimum period of time. This prevents the log filling up with hits on birdies and stuck microphones.
Probe now has a completely reworked CTCSS / DCS tone engine, which is more positive and accurate than previous versions. A new tone feature called "Tone Check Dwell" allows the user to specify a delay during which a change in tone status is validated. The tone engine also has new settings for reducing false tones.
There are also a host of new features for frequency management, including the ability to modify bank descriptions during scanning with the "Copy" and "Move" functions; a "Zap" command accessible from the scanning screen which allows one to clear the log file; a "Replace" function which allows one to replace data; a new frequency entry name function, which allows modification of the "Name" field while the cursor is in any other field; and the ability to enter data common to all records when creating a search file.
There is also an improved frequency duplication check feature which allows entry of another new frequency if a duplicate is found, as well as immediate tuning of frequencies during the "Add" or "Edit" functions; the ability to temporarily lock out ("Templock") the last active frequency while scanning. There is also a new help file for the scanning screen, and the ability to use the frequency database viewer as a stand-alone database, with or without the radio.
Also new is a "Local / Remote" function, which allows one to switch easily between computer controlled scanning and scanning with the radio only, without leaving the scanning screen.
Probe also features support for the Optoelectronics Optocom, running it in Optocom mode instead of the OS535 Emulation mode most other software packages employ. This allows use of features such as automatic baud detection. There is also a new Upload feature, which allows programming up to 100 frequencies into the Optocom for standalone use without a computer.
I don't have an Optocom so was unable to test those features, but I found all the other new features to be quite useful, but especially useful are those features dedicated to speeding up the process of searching out new frequencies. The only thing I would like to see added to Probe is the capability of starting a new log file every day, and naming it for that date (for example, 19991127.log or 20000127.log); this would make it easier to note patterns of usage by day, as well as make it easier to keep a daily activity log, without clearing the log file out each and every day.
In my estimation, Probe is still the King of the Hill when it comes to OptoScan 456 / 535 software. Probe is a real pleasure to use, and it's rich feature set makes it just about the most powerful scanning / searching software available for any scanner.