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Interview with Mark Spencer of Asterisk 124

comforteagle writes "OSDir has published an interview with Mark Spencer of Asterisk and Gaim about why and how he got started coding up the software platform PBX system and how it has become much more than -just- another phone system. He also shares his insights for the opportunities within the telecom industry for open source."
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Interview with Mark Spencer of Asterisk

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  • RE: PBX (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 23, 2006 @03:59PM (#14542293)
    PBX is Provate Branch Exchange. Phone switches, basically.

    Are you sure it wasn't Mark Spencer from Marks and Spencers?
  • Re:And PBX is...? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chyeld ( 713439 ) < minus painter> on Monday January 23, 2006 @04:06PM (#14542364)
    PBX - Private Branch eXchange. Sometimes also called Postbox exchange, or Private Business Exchange. I'm not sure what the 'official' meaning is.

    Basically it's a voicemail/call routing system. Almost every company that handles more than one incoming line has a PBX. It's the internal phone system. Extensions, voicemail boxes, hold music, voice menus, etc. are all run by your companies PBX.

    Asterix is an open source PBX designed to be run off any system that can run Linux. It's fairly extensible and because it runs on commodity hardware, very popular. Normal PBX systems can cost in the $10k amounts to do half of what a $5k Asterix system can. Plus, if you are truly a geek, you can setup your own home PBX off normal phone lines.

    Another reason Asterix is becoming popular is that it can handle Voice Over IP (VOIP) calls. This means you can setup a small home machine (many times people hook it into their router, PC or embedded) to work with a VOIP account such as Vontage and let you have more control with it.
  • by porkThreeWays ( 895269 ) on Monday January 23, 2006 @04:16PM (#14542469)
    I can not even begin to describe how great asterisk has been to the telecom industry. Asterisk will be (and is currently) just as important to the telecom industry as VoIP itself. I've delt with propietary telecom stuff before. It sucks ass. Take Nortel and Cisco for example. If you are going to buy Nortel IP phones, be prepared to use a Nortel soft switch. Up until recently you couldn't use Cisco power over ethernet with Nortel phones because of Nortel's non-standard implementation. Basically, every switch maker has made it as difficult as they can to use other comapanies equipment with theirs. Everything is expensive, non-extensible, and non-interoperable.

    Then there's asterisk. Asterisk uses open standards. Asterisk has an API for writing phone based applications. Asterisk has a clean code base to contribute to. Telecom has almost always wanted to stay as closed as possible. People thought VoIP would change this. It just brought new people to the secret game (Cisco and Nortel being the worst offenders). Asterisk has blown this door wide open. Now, I can use whatever SIP phone I want. I don't have to find a Unistim phone anymore. I can write my own programs to interact with callers. Waaaaaaaaay more than simple tree based IVR's. We're talking full fledged applications through the phone. Without paying a dime. Asterisk has blown the doors wide open on the secret game of telecom. Sure, there will be a lot of people who stick with their traditional telecom equipment. But for those of us willing to roll up our sleeves, Asterisk offers up a way more extensible and programmable soft switch than I've ever seen from the traditional guys.
  • by Qwell ( 684661 ) on Monday January 23, 2006 @04:22PM (#14542515)
    I'd like to add to this...

    Not only can you use whatever SIP phone you like, you can also use whatever IAX2 phone, SCCP phone, MGCP device, etc...and you can use them together.

    You can call from an SCCP phone (Cisco) through Asterisk, over the internet to an IAX2 provider, who in turn connects to their provider via SIP, and then terminates to the PSTN.

    The * really DOES mean everything. Asterisk does this all seemlessly to the end users.
  • by porkThreeWays ( 895269 ) on Monday January 23, 2006 @05:10PM (#14543005)
    Comparing Apache and Asterisk is difficult. The most often changed item of apache is the html. You can't make apache unstartable by having garbage html in your htdocs directory. Really, once the initial configuration of Apache is done, you probably won't make that many changes (for most sites). For asterisk, the thing you change the most is extensions. Extensions live in the Asterisk configuration. You _can_ break your Asterisk config this way and make it unstartable. The software itself is pretty rock solid, but because you will be activly making changes to the asterisk config (whether with vi or a front-end), it does lend itself to more human error. I tend to make any asterisk changes in batches at night because there's less "bitching factor" if the phone system is down for 30 seconds at 11pm than at 11am. If you are in a small business and will rarely add extensions, you could run your asterisk system for years without a problem.

    The biggest thing you want is your hardware on multiple battery backups and make sure your extensions config to make e-911 calls. There'd be nothing worse than a power outage and resulting emergency, and not being able to call 911.
  • by Corydon76 ( 46817 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2006 @03:24AM (#14546745) Homepage
    I am also an Asterisk developer and the list of my contributions to Asterisk are about as long as anthm's. While I certainly agree that he's entitled to his opinion, I disagree with him on many of his points.

    The modular intentions of Asterisk are great though there is no structure there either.

    There is plenty of structure, here, and while in the past some of the lines between different concepts have been blurry, we are continually improving the definitions and coming up with yet better core structures. We're improving. Anthony even made some of these contributions, but we have rejected some of his more radical patches (mostly implementing the idea that everything, even the module loader itself, should be able to be unloaded). While we agree with modular design, there should be a limit; something has to be core, or all your product is is a module loader.

    The other problem with Asterisk modules are that many of the in-tree modules carry cross dependencies that make it impossible for the core to function without them.

    This isn't true. I'm not sure where he got this idea, but certainly some modules depend upon others. That should be a given, but the idea that the core depends upon a module isn't true. Perhaps we modularized something that he thought should be core?

    The first experience for most Asterisk newcomers is an IRC channel where people fight for supremacy like information hungry pirates hording what they know and then sticking it to people for being so "stupid".

    We cannot control how other people act in public. Certainly we have a very vibrant community, but the first experience for Asterisk newcomers is generally the mailing list, not the IRC channel. While we certainly try not to feed the trolls, anybody who has been reading Slashdot for more than a week knows that the trolls stick around. And while we might rebuke others for being cruel on IRC, we cannot control how our users interact. For one thing, we cannot monitor the IRC channel 24/7; for another thing, our work is on Asterisk, not on controlling other users.

    I would defy anyone to find a vibrant open source software community that does not have people who will respond in sometimes nasty ways to people who have not yet learned to ask Smart Questions [].

    Submissions will generally be ignored for months then a one sentence overview will command the developer to fix minor issues and resubmit.

    I'll admit that this has been a problem in the past, but we are working hard to correct it. Bugs filed are generally addressed the next day or at least within 7 days of them being posted. While there are certainly bugs that we reject, quite frequently patches go into SVN within hours of them being submitted. There are also complex patches that require more thought and careful consultation with other developers, to ensure they take the code in directions that we wish to go. These are generally the types of bugs which remain open the longest -- not because we're ignoring them, but because we are carefully considering them.

    soon all the developers will be nothing but users who have no other choice but to try and be developers

    It's unfortunate to hear such an elitist attitude. We all were only users once. Those of us who were interested enough learned and progressed and became developers. It's terrible that some people have forgotten this.

    I could go on for ages documenting more issues but they tend to fall on deaf ears.

    They actually didn't fall on deaf ears. Many of anthm's criticisms were taken quite seriously and have been addressed. It's sad to see another developer take his ball and go home, but we continue to move forward, with or without him. We aren't his keeper, and it's certainly his right to develop whatever he likes.

You will never amount to much. -- Munich Schoolmaster, to Albert Einstein, age 10