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Roadnav User report - A Free GPS solution for the Mac

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  • Roadnav User report - A Free GPS solution for the Mac

    I just returned from a 300 mile trip and decided to give Roadnav, the open source GPS solution a try.

    [Edit: There might be a problem with linking the pictures. Either click on the box with the question mark in it or go here for the album: http://picasaweb.google.com/tberry0916/Roadnav]

    The Conclusion
    I'll cut to the chase and give you the conclusion first. Roadnav works, it is free, and you can actually use it to navigate with. It's slow, doesn't always work correctly, and isn't as advanced as the for purchase Windows software. It shows great promise and I hope it will continue to be developed. Oh yeah, the price can't be beat.

    The conditions
    I used two packages for back to back comparisons of free GPS solutions on the Mac. First, I used Google Earth with the GPS2GE program. This works fine but you can't cache all the maps you need to and you have to preplan the route to cache the data. See my report here for more detail.

    On the return trip, I used Roadnav. My setup is a PPC Mac Mini, 512mb RAM, bluetooth/WiFi, generic Royaltek Sapphire GPS, 8" Xenarc screen.

    The course was from Herndon, VA to Corning, NY, approximately 290 miles and 5-6 hours driving time.

    Setting Up Roadnav
    Below is a screenshot of Roadnav running in the parking lot of a Comfort Inn in Chantilly.



    Why would I be in the parking lot of a Comfort Inn 'borrowing' their net connection? Well, one of the things you must do with Roadnav is download the maps necessary for it to work. If you live in the USA, this is easy. Built in to the Roadnav software are links to the Tiger road mapping data that is maintained by the government and is freely available from a server. All you do is select the data you want (by county) and download it. It takes a few minutes, but it worked easily for me.

    Getting my GPS connected to Roadnav was fairly easy, but there was one trick. My GPS is a generic device. It has a driver for it and it connect via a USB to serial port connection. I've installed a product called GPSD that allows you to share the GPS with several applications, as long as they support GPSD. Since GPSD is open source, products like Roadnav support GPSD. Since I had already configured my GPS to work with GPSD, I checked the box in the preferences that said GPSD.

    As soon as I did that, Roadnav complained to me that my version of GPSD was old and that it had failed a query test with Roadnav. I unchecked the box that said "test compatibility" and Roadnav found the GPS and it showed up on the map! Whatever the issue was, it wasn't fatal. During my test, I shared GPS output with Roadnav and Kismet, a wardriving program that uses GPSD to log locations or hotspots. This worked great, as you can see from the image below. I used Kismet to output a KML file to Google Earth and you can see that a lot of my neighbors need to secure their networks.



    As you can see, Roadnav has an easy to use interface that is set up for touch screen use. Most of what you need is onscreen and you can zoom in and out easily, if you wish.

    However, Roadnav also has a nice auto-zoom feature that will zoom the map out as you go faster, and zoom it in as you slow down. Here's an image of it zoomed in as I refueled at a gas station in Thurmont, MD.



    Note that the detail level is 10 and the location is accurate. The location box is a nice feature of Roadnav that basically lets you know where you are at all times. It's good if you are talking to someone on a cellphone and they ask where you are. Rather than saying, "I'm on route 15," you can say, "I'm near Thurmont."

    Roadnav also has a 3D mode, like the big boys do. It works reasonably well, but after using it for awhile, I preferred the 2D overhead view. As you can also see, the map moves along with the GPS location. It is a little jerky, but it isn't hard to follw or anything.



    Roadnav also has a night skin that you can automatically set to change at sunset. The sun set during my trip and Roadnav switched over to the night skin at 4:57. Nice.



    Roadnav also has a window you can open that shows all of the nearby locations. The image below shows the window in use



    The nearby locations window is cool but it flashes continuously as it updates, so it's a little annoying. However, it has lots of locations and stuff nearby, although there is no search function so you could, for example, set it to show gas stations or restaurants.

    The Ugly
    This is a FREE software product that is essentially beta. I tried using the 'Get directions' function to map out a route to my house so I could get turn-by-turn directions. Supposedly, Roadnav will pop up a window telling you when a turn is coming up and it can also use the speech generator to verbalize the instructions. Unfortunately, when I tried to route to my street address, it would work on it for awhile with the progress bar getting about 1/3 of the way across the screen, then hang. I tried it several times and at different points in the route, but got the same results.

    Roadnav also has an option for using aerial photos from the USGS online archives. About 2/3 of the way through my trip, I got curious about using this feature and enabled it. I got an immediate syntax error that would reappear the second I clicked "okay". Then it would reappear endlessly, over and over and over so quickly that you couldn't shut off the aerial photo view before the error reappeared. I had to pull over, close the program, and relaunch it. That didn't fix the problem, so I dove into the prefs file and found the AerialPhotos=1 line and set it to zero. That fixed it, but I'm not sure the average user would know how to do that.

    Roadnav is slooooow. But not so much that it isn't worth using. However, the updates to the screen sometimes take the form of a simple road display followed a few seconds later by a full display of the nearby rivers and so forth. Sometimes those details will inextricably disappear for a few seconds, then reappear.

    The interface is pretty ugly and the graphics don't look as nice as some programs I've used. On the other hand, I paid zero for the program and I know this app is a major accomplishment, so I'm not really complaining about the appearance other than to say that it would be nice to be able to set the size of the labels and route signs so you could see them better.

    Also, the zoom feature worked pretty well but sometimes it would zoom way out for no apparent reason other than it may have been busy when I passed one of the speed zoom out thresholds and it was trying to catch up. It just seemed a little inconsistent. However, it wasn't really any worse than my old Delorme Street Atlas program.

    The Verdict
    I'll use Roadnav again. It worked well, particularly in 2D mode and I was able to follow my progress pretty easily with it. I'd recommend allowing users to adjust more of the map display elements, but I'd say it's a usable program right now. If you want a native Mac GPS moving map solution, Roadnav not only does it for you, it does it for free.

    However, Roadnav is not yet competitive with the professional offerings such as iGuidance. Map movement is a bit jerky and the graphics could use improvements. Also, make sure you've downloaded the maps ahead of time or you'll find yourself driving on a black background!

    Roadnav shows great promise. I'll be following its development closely.
    Originally posted by ghettocruzer
    I was gung ho on building a PC [until] just recently. However, between my new phone having internet and GPS and all...and this kit...Im starting to have trouble justfiying it haha.
    Want to:
    -Find out about the new iBug iPad install?
    -Find out about carPC's in just 5 minutes? View the Car PC 101 video

  • #2
    Uhh, what pictures??
    Failure is not an option....



    It's installed by default on every version of Windows.

    Comment


    • #3
      Cant code cause I dont know how, but give me the paint bucket and my eraser and have at you!

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Bugbyte View Post
        I just returned from a 300 mile trip and decided to give Roadnav, the open source GPS solution a try.

        However, Roadnav is not yet competitive with the professional offerings such as iGuidance. Map movement is a bit jerky and the graphics could use improvements. Also, make sure you've downloaded the maps ahead of time or you'll find yourself driving on a black background!

        Roadnav shows great promise. I'll be following its development closely.
        Thanks for the review Bugbyte. I've installed it & it's found my bluetooth receiver ok. Now I need to work out how to get a UK map into it :-)

        I'm browsing via Safari 2 here, & where the pic's should be, there's a box with a ? inside, but clicking on those I see the pic's just fine, so not sure why you fellas aren't seeing them.

        john

        Comment


        • #5
          What version of roadnav did you use? 0.16 was supposded to fix a lot of issues. and i think the "slownest" factor could be due to the fact that you have PPC box, on my Intel box seems to work fairly quick, although i still didn't try it on the road with GPS.

          Comment


          • #6
            I actually used roadnav about a year ago when I drove from California to North Carolina during our move out here. The version I used was 0.09something and it was on a Linux box. If you think the slowness is bad now, you should have tried it then. I was actually working with the developer (Richard) back then to help him port it over to Mac. Actually I just did the testing. It was pretty unusable on my G3 700 Mhz iBook (hence the reason I drove across country with a Linux box. The program has actually come a LONG way since then.

            As Bugbyte pointed out, you do need to plan out your route ahead of time and download the appropriate maps. Unfortunately this is a product of using the US Census Tiger data. Another problem is that it can't determine whether a road is one-way or not (also a limitation of the Tiger data). I haven't tried it lately but there was also an issue where you had to be extremely precise when it came to entering a destination address. The Tiger data is quite inconsistant when it comes to naming streets. Sometimes parts of the street names are abbreviated and sometimes they aren't (1234 N. Main St. or 1234 North Main Street). Like I said, I haven't tried this lately so the program my compensate for that now.

            One thing that is nice is the ability to download maps on the fly (if you have an internet connection). If you have a 2 button mouse (or some way of simulating a right click) you can simply right click a blank area and it will download the map for you. It also has a nice on-screen keyboard for entering data. Whenever the keyboard is available simply click the "Keyboard" button at the bottom of the dialog box and the screen pops up (one of my suggestions :-) ).

            All in all it IS a good program. It's biggest downfall is the data source. The Tiger data is usable to a point but is very limited. It only covers the US and it's territories and it doesn't contain road directions (it doesn't see a problem with driving the wrong way down a divided interstate). It would also be nice if the program were skinable but as Bugbyte mentioned, You sure can't beat the price.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by metalac View Post
              What version of roadnav did you use? 0.16 was supposded to fix a lot of issues. and i think the "slownest" factor could be due to the fact that you have PPC box, on my Intel box seems to work fairly quick, although i still didn't try it on the road with GPS.
              I'm using version .16. When I say it is slow, it's probably an exaggeration. It's a little sluggish to zoom in and out. When tracking during driving, it wasn't sluggish

              As far as hanging when routing, I've tried several variations using ST, St, St. Street, and so forth with no success. However, I just tried entering the coordinates and it did work! It's a pain to have to know the GPS location of every place you want to go, but at least I can try the routing options out.
              Originally posted by ghettocruzer
              I was gung ho on building a PC [until] just recently. However, between my new phone having internet and GPS and all...and this kit...Im starting to have trouble justfiying it haha.
              Want to:
              -Find out about the new iBug iPad install?
              -Find out about carPC's in just 5 minutes? View the Car PC 101 video

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Bugbyte View Post
                I'm using version .16. When I say it is slow, it's probably an exaggeration. It's a little sluggish to zoom in and out. When tracking during driving, it wasn't sluggish

                As far as hanging when routing, I've tried several variations using ST, St, St. Street, and so forth with no success. However, I just tried entering the coordinates and it did work! It's a pain to have to know the GPS location of every place you want to go, but at least I can try the routing options out.
                Still no pics...
                Failure is not an option....



                It's installed by default on every version of Windows.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Bugbyte View Post
                  ...However, Roadnav also has a nice auto-zoom feature that will zoom the map out as you go faster, and zoom it in as you slow down. Here's an image of it zoomed in as I refueled at a gas station in Thurmont, MD....
                  After using Route66 for a while, I thought that he would be great to have an auto-zoom feature. I suggest this feature to RouteBuddy's team. I thought I had a great idea :-) now I see that it already exist. Still, a very good news.

                  Thank you again BugByte, for this very complete report. I will put a link to your report in my web site. You talk about everything I wanted to know.

                  Is there another one you are planning to Road test?
                  Help me keep my web site up to date.
                  Mac-Mini in Passat

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Is there another one you are planning to Road test?
                    I'm not paying money for RouteBuddy until you can use it to get directions from one place to another.

                    Roadnav already has more features than RouteBuddy, is more usable in a touch screen environment, and it's free. It's not as good looking, but it is under active development and I'd expect it to improve with time.

                    I don't have another GPS solution to test unless you know of one. I'm making another trip over Thanksgiving.
                    Originally posted by ghettocruzer
                    I was gung ho on building a PC [until] just recently. However, between my new phone having internet and GPS and all...and this kit...Im starting to have trouble justfiying it haha.
                    Want to:
                    -Find out about the new iBug iPad install?
                    -Find out about carPC's in just 5 minutes? View the Car PC 101 video

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Question?

                      I don't mean to shift directions of the thread, but since you're obviously experienced with RoadNav, I thought you might be able to help.

                      I have RoadNav installed, and I have a Holux GM-210 USB receiver. RoadNav will not recognize the receiver. I saw on this receiver on the list of compatible devices for RoadNav. I'm curious if this is an error with RoadNav, or is this an incompatability issue between the receiver and my Mac?

                      (Cannot find any info on the forums or the web that solves this problem)

                      Otherwise- Very good review. Makes me want to get this receiver working because the app looks promising.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        See if this discussion helps http://www.mp3car.com/wiki/index.php/GPS.

                        First, make sure the driver is installed properly. Plug the GPS in and then go to the About This Macintosh selection under the Apple menu. Click 'More Info' and the System Profiler will launch. Look under USB for your receiver. If it's there, that's a good sign.

                        Then, make sure you have activated the port correctly. This is probably where you've gone wrong. Open the Preferences-->Network control panel with the GPS plugged in and you should be informed that you have a new port available. You have to select "Network Port Configurations" from the drop down and check the box to activate it.

                        Since the Mac doesn't have serial ports, what it does is mimic them virtually. The driver you installed will write data to and from the GPS device to a file located at /dev/tty.serial1 or some similarly named file (it depends on the name of your GPS device, which you can get from the Network Port Configurations).

                        Then, get an app called GPSUtility for the Mac. It will give you a drop down of the possible devices. Pick the one you think it is and open the GPS window. It will show the actual data streaming in from the GPS. If you can't get it to work with that, then the installation of the Holux driver or your network port configuration isn't working properly.

                        Once you get it to work with GPSUtility, it ought to show up in Roadnav. I think you'll have to select NMEA mode for the Holux.

                        After you've mastered that, look into using GPSDx so you can share that receiver with multiple applications. All you'll have to do is install GPSDx, then launch the ConfigGPSDx application that comes with it. You specify your GPS device and start. It will tell you if it's working properly.

                        Then you go back to Roadnav and select "Use GPSD" in the GPS options. Do the same with the other apps that you want to use
                        Originally posted by ghettocruzer
                        I was gung ho on building a PC [until] just recently. However, between my new phone having internet and GPS and all...and this kit...Im starting to have trouble justfiying it haha.
                        Want to:
                        -Find out about the new iBug iPad install?
                        -Find out about carPC's in just 5 minutes? View the Car PC 101 video

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Followed your instructions. Got the Mac to recognize the GPS. RoadNav still did not want to play nice with the receiver. Either wouldn't recognize it, or would hang and freeze the computer.


                          Any suggestions?

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Glad that you shared this BugByte :-)
                            "If it works this good why F with it?" -KMFDM "Intro"

                            Strive for ethical wardriving: http://faq.wardrive.net/

                            My CarCPUs: v1 - 2000 | v2 - 2004
                            Mp3Car Meets: http://detrimental.org/eyecandy/MP3CarMeets

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by PMouse View Post
                              Followed your instructions. Got the Mac to recognize the GPS. RoadNav still did not want to play nice with the receiver. Either wouldn't recognize it, or would hang and freeze the computer.


                              Any suggestions?
                              Well, that's progress!

                              1. Are you using gpsdx or not?
                              2. Did you use GPS Utility? If so, did you see data streaming across the window in NMEA sentences? If so, good sign. If not, your GPS isn't working. Otherwise, were you able to get a fix in GPS utility using your GPS?
                              3. Does roadnav run without freezing on your Mac? What kind of Mac is it (Intel or PPC)?
                              4. What version of roadnav are you using?

                              If roadnav runs without freezing on the Mac but freezes when you make the GPS connection, try it a different way. If you were using gpsdx, use the gpsdx config program to turn it off and try connecting using a different method.

                              Try a different program with your GPS, like GPS2GE. That reads data from gpsdx and outputs it to a file in kml format so you can use Google Earth as your nav program. It's pretty simple and might have less issues working with the GPS. You don't have to go to the trouble of hooking it up to GE. Just run the program and hit 'start' (if you have gpsdx installed). It will tell you if it is getting a fix from the GPS.

                              Also, go to roadnav's site and check out the forum there. I reported several of the bugs I mentioned in my write up and he's put fixes in the new beta release to handle the errors.

                              Are you doing your testing indoors or outside where you can be sure to get a fix?
                              Originally posted by ghettocruzer
                              I was gung ho on building a PC [until] just recently. However, between my new phone having internet and GPS and all...and this kit...Im starting to have trouble justfiying it haha.
                              Want to:
                              -Find out about the new iBug iPad install?
                              -Find out about carPC's in just 5 minutes? View the Car PC 101 video

                              Comment

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