Which Flight Simulator Software is right for me?

Back in the early days, we didn’t have much choice when it came to selecting flight simulator software.  When I was a teen back in the early 80’s, I had a Commodore 64 computer.  I had a version of flight simulator which ran on the Commodore 64 computer.  In those days you only had a small selection of airports to fly to and from and typically only one type of aircraft.  I spent many, many hours flying the Cessna around Meig’s Field in Chicago.

As time passed, the sophistication of the various flight simulator software titles evolved from just one aircraft and a few airports to any aircraft one could imagine and an entire globe full of airports with tons of eye candy to look at while flying from point A to point B.  Today, flight simulator enthusiasts have many different software platforms to choose from when it comes to setting up their flight simulator. 

Microsoft Flight Simulator

Perhaps some will argue this point, but I believe Microsoft Flight Simulator leads the popularity contest when it comes to flight simulator software.   From Microsoft Flight Simulator 1.0 released in 1982 all the way to Microsoft Flight Simulator X released in 2006, Microsoft has certainly done its part to create the industry behind the flight sim hobby.

Tip – Microsoft released a new ‘simulator’ titled Microsoft Flight in February 2012.  While Microsoft referred to MS Flight as a simulator, the flight sim community does not.  Unlike all other versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator, Flight is geared to be more of a ‘game’ versus simulator. On July 26, 2012, Microsoft cancelled any further development plans for Flight.

If you are looking into purchasing a version of Microsoft Flight Simulator, you’ll find Flight Simulator 2004 (AKA FS9) and Flight Simulator X as the most common versions used among Microsoft enthusiasts.  You’ll also find software add-on options (including scenery, aircraft and other accessories) widely available for both FS9 and FSX versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator.  I wouldn’t advise purchasing any version prior to FS9.

FSX will function (as well as just about every add-on) without issue on the Microsoft Windows 7 OS (32 bit and 64 bit).  I’ve also read in various forums where users have installed FSX on the new Microsoft Windows 8 OS.  However, I can’t confirm Windows 8 will handle all the other add-on options available. 

X-Plane

X-Plane, developed by Laminar Research is another popular flight sim platform which has been around for a number of years.  Designed for Mac, but also available for 32/64-Bit Windows and Linux OS systems, it has become a solid alternative to the Microsoft brand.  Most 3rd party developers designing the various add-on options include X-Plane versions.  Unlike Microsoft, the developers of X-Plane continue to develop the software and as of the present time the most current version is 10.10.

Prepar3D

Prepar3D or P3D is the new kid on the block with regards to payware flight simulation software.  Announced in 2009, Lockheed Martin negotiated the purchase of the intellectual property including source code of Microsoft Flight Simulator X along with the hiring of many of the MS developers which were part of ACES Studios to develop what would become Prepar3D.  From what I understand, most add-ons as well as the default FSX aircraft work in Prepar3D without any adjustment since Prepar3D is kept backward compatible to FSX.  However, there are some small technical changes that must be made if you want to fly online via either the IVAO or VATSIM networks.

There is some debate whether or not Prepar3D is designed to be used in the flight sim hobby community.  I don’t believe Lockheed Martin plans to develop a public version, but the Prepar3D website does state that the academic license version is available for students from kindergarten through undergraduate and is suitable for home use.  You can learn more about the licensing of P3D here.

Freeware/Open-Source Alternatives and a warning

There is an open-source alternative to flight simulation software available from FlightGear.  While I’ve never spent any time testing or flying using the FlightGear flight simulation software, I know others do use it and there are methods of importing planes from Microsoft Flight Simulator into FlightGear.  In addition, there is also an on-line client for the VATSIM network called SquawkGearthat will allow you to use FlightGear to fly on-line.  It is extremely encouraging to see developers like FlightGear contribute to the flight sim community with their open-source program. 

Unfortunately, there are some individuals who have taken the open-source code from FlightGear, made a few minor modifications and are attempting to market the product under various names such as Flight Pro Sim, Pro Flight Simulator etc.  I first learned about this back in 2010 and blogged about it here and here.  But please….don’t take my word for it.  Read the official statement released by FlightGear and judge for yourself.

Final Thoughts

I base much of my decision around what flight simulator platform I continue to use around the fact that I have a large investment of money and time in the Microsoft platform.  I built a custom PCback in 2010 which would handle the demands of Microsoft FSX.  I have hundreds of dollars tied up in add-on software and hardware to enhance my flight sim experience.  If I woke up tomorrow and could no longer run Microsoft FSX, I would probably further investigate Prepar3D as a solution.  However, if you are just starting out….the sky truly is the limit in the direction you proceed. 

While there are many reasons to select Microsoft Flight Simulator as your software of choice, the fact that Microsoft discontinued development and in my opinion will never develop flight simulation software again is perhaps a reason to steer away from this as an option.  But for now, FSX continues to be my platform of choice and it works well for me.

Until next time…

Happy Flying!!!

JT

More naughty behavior

Last month I blogged about some old news regarding how I believe the Flight Pro Sim software (I’m sure you’ve seen the ads on Facebook and Twitter) is seriously cheating the flight sim hobby by taking an existing product available totally free from the good folks at FlightGear.org and ripping YOU, the flight simulator enthusiast off by re-bundling the software and charging for it.  

Well in recent days I’ve learned how they have shown back up under a different name called Flight Simulator Plus.  Trust me, this is the same old stuff just under a different name.  The fraud is the same, the software is the same and the overall concept of taking your money for software which is available for free is still the same.  It’s bad regardless of how you slice and dice it. 

Look….as I stated in May I’ve not played around with the original FlightGear.org software.  The reason being is I’m fully invested in Microsoft Flight Simulator X and do 99.9% of all my flight simulation flying on the VATSIM network.  It is not that I’m resistant to change….I just have my FSX machine running so smoothly with FSX that I don’t see the need for a change.  But I do care about this hobby and care about those who are involved in this awesome hobby and especially those who are just starting out.

Individuals who have been around for a while may already be set with either Microsoft Flight Simulator (of any version) or X-Plane.  You have already made an investment and are probably already set in the direction you want to go.  However, new people checking the hobby out may look to Internet web searches, Facebook or Twitter data and may stumble on this fraudulent website.  They may read all the things this flight simulator can do and may think it is what is best for them.  They may not realize (until it is too late) that the same software….the original software is available for free.  

Again, as I explained in May…FlightGear.org has stated the reasons why they believe this is their software only re-branded.  I believe what they say is true and encourage you to help share this information throughout the Flight Sim community. 

Thank you for reading my blog and helping to spread the word. 

Jerry

Pro Flight Simulator–Honest or rip off?

I blog about the flight simulation hobby for many reasons.  Mainly to share my enjoyment of the hobby, but also to share knowledge with others.  While I don’t claim to know everything about the hobby and if you’ve read some of my blog postings you know I’m also learning or sometimes re-learning along the way.  Bottom line is I’m loving my re-entry back into the hobby and love sharing my experiences with all of you who read this.

As I shared waaaaaaaay back in blog post #1, I’ve been flying computer sims since the early to mid 80’s.  I started on the Commodore 64 with just the computer, software and a joystick.  The Commodore 64 version of Flight Simulator was rather crude in comparison to FSX today, but it was certainly in-line with the video games of the era.  By the way, yes I had the original Pong.

As time has passed from those days of the C-64 and flying around Meig’s Field, the versions of Flight Simulator have truly become “As Real As It Gets” and while I have no direct experience with X-Plane, I know many fellow enthusiasts who swear by it and there is certainly room for two major developers of software to support the hobby.

While the concept of freeware,shareware and open-source has been around for many years (even as far back as the C-64 days), in this hobby we’ve really only seen that in terms of add-on scenery, aircraft etc.  As far as I know the first true open-source flight simulator software package didn’t show up until around 1996 when FlightGear.org developed and released their version of a flight simulator.  Since 1996, FlightGear.org has offered their software (frequently updated) absolutely free.

In recent months a new flight simulator package has been advertised throughout the flight sim community, on Twitter and even Facebook titled Flight Pro Sim or ProFlight Simulator (perhaps other names as well).  I’ll get back to this in just a minute.

With exception to Microsoft FSX, my GoFlight hardware and a few other software add-ons just about everything else I use (including most of my aircraft fleet) is freeware or shareware.  Yes I do own a lot of scenery packages which I have purchased (I don’t support software piracy) but again most of my aircraft (especially the big iron) are all freeware/shareware models.  I routinely fly several POSKY models and before the breakup of POSKY, I did occasionally donate a few dollars here and there to help offset their web hosting expenses. 

Software piracy is a big deal not only in the flight sim community, but all over the software industry.  In my opinion, knowingly downloading and installing pirated software is just as bad as walking into your neighbors house and taking something of equal value.  It is stealing….there is no other way to say it.

Now back to ProFlight Simulator.  If you frequent Facebook or follow some flight simulator enthusiasts on Twitter, you may have seen the ads for this software.  Hopefully you have also read the warnings from others about avoiding this software.  But why? 

First of all, it is widely believed that the ProFlight Simulator software being sold for anywhere from $49.00 up to $89.00 is just a re-branded version of the absolutely free FlightGear software.  Remember, I told you a few minutes ago that FlightGear.org has offered their open-source software free since 1996.  Now…just don’t take my word for it.  Read the information here direct from FlightGear on how they believe this is their software, just re-branded.

I’m not a lawyer, I don’t play one on TV and I didn’t sleep in a Holiday Inn Hotel last night (inside joke on a TV commercial that airs in the US), but according to the guys at FlightGear, what ProFlight Simulator did is not illegal….just unethical.  In my mind this just infuriates me even more.

Again, while I touched on the issues this hobby and community faces with regards to software piracy, what ProFlight Simulator has done really doesn’t fall into that category and I’m not making a direct comparison to that issue.  The issue is ethics…plain and simple and yes people are getting hurt in the process.

First, any consumer who purchases or has already purchased ProFlight Simulator for any price has been hurt and mislead.  The reason is because it is widely believed the software ProFlight Simulator is selling is merely a re-branded version of FlightGear which is and always has been available for Free. 

Second, the folks over at FlightGear who from day one have worked hard to develop and provide to the community an open-source flight simulator software program for free have been hurt by this. 

Third, while I’ve never installed or used FlightGear (and perhaps many of you never have either), but  the entire Flight Sim Community has been hurt by this.  The reason is because this selfish action of ProFlight Simulator could cause others who want to develop freeware, shareware and open-source software for the benefit of all of us to re-think their plan. 

So what do you think?  Honest or Rip Off?  Well….only you can decide for yourself.  If you are looking at getting into the hobby then please do your homework.  While I’ve not researched what either of these software packages can fully do, I don’t think they are supported to the extent of Microsoft Flight Simulator or X-Plane when it comes to the various add-ons available and for example VATSIM.  My advice in this case is to read the info available from all software packages and make your own decision on what is best for you. 

In closing, the purpose of this blog post is to just help get the information out there.  This is not a new issue as again I say this topic has been blogged about by many.  But if just one person learns the truth from reading this blog post then it has been worth the effort to put the information out there for all to read. 

Finally, you’ll notice I did not provide the direct link to the ProFlight Simulator website.  Since this is my blog I can decide what I want linking from it.  In my own mind I believe what ProFlight Simulator has done is unethical, misleading and hurtful.  If you want to visit their website…Google is your friend.

In the spirit of Hill Street Blues….

Jerry

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