OK, Computeers! What's the oldest form of electronic communication? If you said the telegraph, you're right. Most people know what Morse code is, too: Named for its inventor, it's the dots and dashes that the telegraph man so dramatically taps out on a metal key in old Western movies. Known by the shorthand CW, Morse code is a direct ancestor of computer code. The Internet uses the same basic technology, and probably the same wires, too, in some places, so it's appropriate that we should take a look at software for sending and receiving Morse code via a PC. Which brings us to CW Decoder, a free application from WD6CNF. It can decode Morse code signals received on a radio at up to 50 words per minute, and it can transmit Morse code tapped out on your keyboard, keying a radio transmitter button via the PC's serial port. Its hands-free operation means you don't have to stop keying to click the mouse.
CW Decoder's colorful, feature-packed interface is a bit busy for our tastes, but its close resemblance to an amateur radio's faceplate will be familiar to many of the program's users, and many of the controls will be, too. On the taskbar, there are menu items like AFC (Automatic Frequency Control) and Transmit, interface sliders for Rx Gain, Rx Coarse, Nx Blank, Tx Sync, and Squelch, and looping controls that are common in amateur radio components and software. Variable displays for signal-to-noise ratio, peak frequency, and other readouts run along the bottom of the interface. New users will probably need some time to sort it all out; it's actually quite a basic setup but with lots of options. If, like us, you don't happen to have a ham radio at hand, we recommend trying one of the many sites online for learning or using CW. After much fiddling, we managed to get a scrolling text display, though unfortunately not in readable English. However, the program did decode radio signals to text, and that's what we wanted it to do--it's up to you to configure it to your own system.
Our only real gripe is the Help file, which won't open in some recent versions of Windows, such as 64-bit Windows 7, due to a known issue involving .chm files; we feel this should be a problem for the developer, not the user. Nevertheless, CW Decoder is unique, useful, and free, and we recommend it to anyone with an interest in Morse code or amateur radio.