Ham radio software was originally developed to allow ham operators to use digital modes of communication. The different types of ham radio software are often dependent on the type of computer operating system used by the radio operator. The software can allow the operator to transmit text and images, or even communicate without all of the normally required equipment.
To run most ham radio software, an operator will need a ham radio system that includes an HF transceiver, a computer running compatible software, a terminal node controller (TNC), and cables and connectors compatible with the hardware. The computer's operating system will determine which ham radio programs can be used. Windows® programs are the most common, but more software is becoming available for both Macintosh® and Linux users. Rarer are programs written for obsolete operating systems such as Amiga and the Commodore.
Ham radio programs designed specifically for sending and receiving transmissions can be very sophisticated, allowing a ham radio operator to send email, pictures, and even certain types of TV broadcasts without the use of traditional infrastructure such as phone lines and wireless Internet signals. Using a computer running compatible software, a sufficiently powerful ham radio, and the right kind of antenna, it is even possible to communicate with astronauts during missions if schedules and atmospheric conditions permit. Other ham radio software capabilities provide the ability to transmit images such as weather maps and charts to sailors and others living in remote areas that lack a common communications infrastructure.
In addition to programs that allow a ham to send text and data packets through the airwaves, there are several ham radio test software programs. It is possible to study and practice for amateur radio license tests, learn Morse code, analyze antenna requirements, and determine the best times for propagation of radio waves. Much of this ham radio software is free of charge and can be downloaded from participating websites. Other programs charge a modest fee for the use of their software, often shipped to the buyer on a CD or as a paid download.
One of the more revolutionary developments in ham radio software is the ability to use a computer to transmit and receive on the amateur radio bands without having a transceiver, an antenna, or any other ham radio equipment. Using ham radio online, it is possible to transmit to and receive messages from an operator using traditional ham radio equipment. Use of these programs requires registering with the software developer, providing a valid ham radio call sign, and sometimes paying a small fee.