Skywave Linux: New Linux Ubuntu Distribution made for Software Defined Radio

Skywave Linux is a new Linux distribution based on Ubuntu 14.10. It is designed for users of software defined radio’s and comes with several useful SDR software packages preinstalled. It can be run from a bootable DVD, USB or SD card.

The author writes that Skywave Linux is currently compatible with the RTL-SDR and HPSDR hardware. At the moment it seems that the first version has only very few preinstalled software programs. These include: QT Radio, CubicSDR, Fldigi, and Dump1090. The authors write about Skywave:

Welcome to the first release of Skywave Linux! This is an operating system designed to provide access to a growing network of software defined radios all over the world. With global SDR access, shortwave listeners can access broadcast, utility, amateur radio, military, and other signals from almost anywhere in the world – from state-of-the art radio servers. All you need to do is boot Skywave Linux on a computer with internet access.

Why was Skywave Linux created? The developer of this system was plagued by a lack of access to quality radio broadcasts due to his residence in a country practising tight media control and censorship. In addition, software defined radio is an exciting way to experience the hobby of shortwave listening. By connecting to remote radio servers on the internet, it is possible to enjoy bleeding edge radio operation without large antennas or setting up a station on-site. Installing SDR software can be difficult for many computer users, and Skywave Linux eliminates the hassle of downloading, compiling, and configuring apps for the SDR servers on the internet.

If you’re instead looking for a distribution with GNU Radio preinstalled, then we note that other distributions such as KB1OIQ – Andy’s Ham Radio Linux, the GNU Radio live DVD, and Kali and Pentoo Linux also exist.

CubicSDR running in Skywave Linux
CubicSDR running in Skywave Linux

28 comments

  1. Julien 9Z4FZ

    Excellent Distro just what the radio fraternity needs as a ham I love this I can listen to anything any where and not being bug down by condition I am a lover of Linux used many distros, but this is really cool stuff great job guys.

    As a ham I have already installed on three computers and will be enjoying life more with this never a dull day in the life of radio technology

    Julien 9Z4FZ

  2. oz9qv

    I tried the distro on a i7 machine, and it worked fine (ecxept that I do not like the Unity desktop hiding everything).
    I then tried on a cheap modern laptop (so-called quad core low power processor), and it became so slow that I had momentary freezes using the sdr apps.
    I would have preferred the use of a less resource demanding GUI, much like a simple window manager or LXDE (e.g. Lubuntu), where I can find all the apps ;).
    Also, I suspect that the sdr apps are not compiled to use more than a single core, but I do not know. Comments ?

  3. ManBearPig

    Works awesome out of the box, no complaints here, few little learning curves though (trying to set my upconverter offset in cubicsdr? havent figured that out yet, if anyone has any tips id very much appreciate it, it’s probably obvious but i cant find it, maybe need to play more lol) but running without it works very well so far, in spite of my relative lack of experience with ham radio. Why would anyone complain, i reckon he’s done a really nice job, any extra apps you easily install ontop of a full install because he’s done alot of the trickier stuff for you, if you don’t like it then don’t use it or spin up your own distro, should be nothing elite about linux, it’s meant to be for everyone and now days its easier to use and more accessible than ever and there is tonnes of info out there on how to boot from iso etc. if you mainly use windows though, Yumi is good, i use multisystem on ubuntu because you can add lots of isos to one flash drive and cos all my pcs run ubuntu, i’ve used yumi for work though and is good for multi booting several isos. A quick google search will turn them up. To linux newcomers – don’t be afraid to have a go, it’s only as complicated as you want to make it (just like any other operating system windows included) and this is a very easy way to use the included apps without having to change anything on your harddrive or risk damaging your windows install and start playing with your sdr. Oh and respinning ubuntu has always taken me longer than five mins, mostly been to avoid having to install all my apps across multiple pcs but ive never been able to do in five mins! usually takes me hours of messing around! Thanks to dev, runs nice now i’ve just gotta learn to drive it! 🙂

      • ManBearPig

        quick note on CubicSDR – it opens in a reduced window and the menus don’t show unless it’s maximised (just in case anyone else wonders where all the settings are when they start it up!)

  4. Nikkadaem

    I am a long time linux user…my first distro came off of a BBS and required a 12 inch tall stack of floppies. Then I had to modify drivers to work with my distro…fun stuff back in the day. I was sitting here reading through the comments and was utterly amused. I just don’t understand why people have such an elitist view of who can use linux and what distros should and should not be released. This is very similar to old-school hams referring to new hams as appliance operators or, my favorite, digi-junkies…yes, I heard it at a ham fest.

    At any rate, skywave is an os in a box with a specific purpose, function, and audience. It’s a great way to introduce people not familiar with linux to something new. No need to bash the guy for trying to help out two different communities. Instead of bashing him, why not help him out. Create easy to follow tutorials on how to install and configure each of these apps. And I do mean easy to follow. Consider how some people in the audience don’t even know how to find terminal. Or there is a post about running this on RPi. Well why not inform that person how to load xwindows apps onto a Pi with a debian release and use xming to access them.

    Being helpful and resourceful is what both the linux and ham communities are supposed to be about.

  5. mike

    I just installed on a spare PC love it. I am a Fedora user and never have been keen on Ubuntu ,unlike the rest of the world.

  6. VA7LFD

    After installing Skywave it worked flawlessly. ADS-B worked excellent. Only problem I have is that after I updated Skywave-Ubuntu to the latest Ubuntu my Toshiba AMD64 laptop wouldn’t boot up. Otherwise for newbies this OS rocks!

  7. AB9IL

    I hear what you’re saying… Skywave Linux, though, is aimed at people like me – who find satisfaction tuning around on remote radio servers, hence QtRadio and links to WebSDR sites. The bands are pretty grim at my QTH, and there’s a lack of decent programming due to jamming and censorship. Skywave is a way to evade and access without having strong programming skills.

    I found GnuRadio to be a pain to install on my own, as were earlier versions of QtRadio and GQRX. Learning how to do it was a good experience, but this distro is more about expanding awareness of and operating the GHPSDR dspservers.

    Those dspservers are amazing, and you can’t operate one for long without wanting to put up your own sever. All you need is a good image for an Arduino or Rpi device, plus a Softrock, Hermes Lite, or better hardware.

    CubicSDR is indeed easy to install, and I run it on my laptop quite a bit. I wish the developers would write in better gain control, though!

    Cheers,
    AB9IL
    (Frequent reader of RTL-SDR.com)

  8. Bk

    Ok fancy pants Linux guys, give it a break and let this app be redistributed as designed.
    The rest of the world doesn’t know all the steps that make this work, BUT as a HAM radio guy I could really use this on a Rasperberry PI for portability and low power usage.
    Still trying to get the ISO image to load properly to boot is a Micro SD card…. No luck yet.

    Any pointers or other directions? Thanks to the team that made it.

  9. Demigod

    BTJustice… You have to remember that not everyone is an elite hacker zero cool Angelina Jolie like yourself therefore, distributions like this are not necessarily needed but, indeed very helpful to those that would like to enjoy the world of SDR without having to become a Free Mitnick follower. I am sure developer went to great lengths to provide an out of the box experience for those that are not savvy and still want to enjoy their RTL devices.

    Truly yours,
    Cereal Killer.

    • BTJustice

      Nothing I typed was “hacking” nor hard. Linux is not really that hard to use. Most people use Windows and are use to it. So how do you get a RTL-SDR to work on Windows? Well most people will have to look at awesome websites such as this one and will probably go with SDR#. Okay so now they have to go to their website and download it then extract the files to someplace like C:\SDRSharp and then open the install.bat file so it downloads SDR# and then open another folder to open SRDSharp.exe. Then they find out that the RTL-SDR doesn’t work natively so they have to open the Zadig.exe program and correctly pick their RTL-SDR and then update the drivers with Zadig. Then they close Zadig then reopen SDRSharp.exe. Now the RTL-SDR works but needs adjusted. Finally they can tune into frequencies but will inevitably want to scan so they have to find the plugin to do so then add a list of frequencies to be scanned and so on and so forth.

      See the point of the above? Computing is not point and click easy pleasy. When we all started with Windows we all had problems learning things. I use both Windows and Linux. I took the time to learn how to install a program on both and how to access the programs on both.

      Now from the above, if anyone finds that hard then they should make a custom version on Windows for SDR users.

  10. Ton

    Link to the developers of the distribution so we can download it and give feedback?
    And yes, i agree with the previous poster. If all that this distribution brings is apps on top of Ubuntu, then this distri can be rebuilt in 5 minutes. No point.

    • admin

      Oops, the link didn’t stick at first, added in the first line now.

      Yeah it seems like it’s just Ubuntu + some easy to install SDR apps, which is why I linked to the other more featured distro’s as well, but if the author adds more difficult to install apps like GNU Radio in the future then it may become more useful.

  11. BTJustice

    I use Linux (Ubuntu MATE 14.0.2 LTS) and find this silly. I wish people would stop releasing new distributions of GNU/Linux when they are not needed. There is no point to this distribution. Anyone with any recent distribution can easily blacklist their RTL-SDR and download these programs. In literally minutes, you can be using your RTL-SDR in any Ubuntu-based Linux.

    Blacklist RTL-SDR
    1) Open the /etc/modprobe.d folder as Administrator.
    2) Click on FILE > CREATE DOCUMENT > EMPTY FILE.
    3) Name the file no-rtl.conf and then right-click on it to open it with a text editor such as Pluma.
    4) Add these 4 lines to no-rtl.conf, save the file, and reboot your computer:
    blacklist dvb_usb_rtl28xxu
    blacklist e4000
    blacklist rtl2830
    blacklist rtl2832

    Cubic SDR
    1) Go to https://github.com/cjcliffe/CubicSDR/releases/tag/0.1.3
    2) Download the .DEB file.
    3) Open .DEB file with Ubuntu Software Center and install it.
    4) Open Terminal.
    5) Type CubicSDR to open it.

    Gqrx
    1) Open Terminal.
    2) Type in sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gqrx/releases and press ENTER.
    3) After entering your password (if needed) and adding the ppa, type in sudo apt-get update then sudo apt-get upgrade to get all the latest software updates and then sudo apt-get install gqrx to install Gqrx.
    4) Click on Applications > Accessories > Gqrx to open it.

    Dump1090
    1) Open Terminal.
    2) Type in:
    git clone https://github.com/MalcolmRobb/dump1090
    cd dump1090
    make
    ./dump1090 --interactive --net

    3) Open your web browser and go to localhost:8080

    I am still hoping the author of SDR# will release a closed-source version for Linux. Until then, Gqrx and CubicSDR fill the void.

      • Skywavelinux

        That’s an amusing line of commentary, as though there’s a limit on distro space. Should there also be fewer varieties of beer? Are there too many rock bands? Too many species of mammals? Markets (radio users) are smart and will gravitate to what “just works”.

        I think you see my point here. There will always be variety and people have freedom to evaluate and select what they want to use.

        I would have been happy if someone had put these applications together in a ready-to-use distro, but they didn’t. And no one even thought about putting some system-wide audio processing in a radio distro to give it some regulation and punch. Well, today the sun has risen on a new world…

        • BTJustice

          Well that’s the problem with GNU/Linux and why not too many regular users want to use it. There are too damn many distributions. Linux Torvalds even says this. And I am sorry you disagree, but yours is not needed.

          • Skywavelinux

            Linus is changing the world, but he just doesn’t see the way things really are. Freedom is difficult, because one must make choices. I can understand his rants about quality, but he’s wasting breath fussing about the number of distros. Might as well complain about too many breeds of dogs or (again) kinds of beer. Might as well drive a dinky trabant.

            There’s a long tail in the number of distros in use, with the biggies dominating up top, and plenty of small ones bubbling below. Just like beer, dogs, and cars.

            Version 1.1 is in the works, with more apps and better RTL-SDR support in QtRadio. I could bug KB1IOQ about putting these apps into his distro, but his reply may well be, “you want it, you develop it. Send me the changes when it’s finished”. So, 1.1 when it’s ready.

            • Sadie

              Great! Thanks a lot I love trying out new Distros, often I encounter a new theme or tool that is added that I’m not used to using or knowing about. I also would ignore the call there are too many distros. that’s just crazy talk. so many *nix varieties out there, they fill niches just like people do. I’m personally working on a Tails OS Variant that will have the ability to host a rtl-sdr as a hidden service. the Idea is for portable networked RFband Scanners that are on an encryption platform delivering end to end encryption of scanned freq across tor. For use during protest or civil unrest. or …

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