One of the first GUIs for Asterisk was Asterisk @Home which eventually became Trixbox . Now there are tens of them. On the voip-info page I’ve managed to count about more than 40. Some are completely free, some commercial of which some also have free counterparts. Many offer payed support, training and certification.
So how do you choose between 40+ choices?
It’s easy you don’t. One should never have more than 3 things to choose from.
Sow how do you choose, really?
Well I guess it all comes down to which of the GUI distributions or front-ends you came in contact first. Because you have the most time invested in that one. Or you trusted someone’s recommendation. You cannot possibly make an informed choice, on your own, by trying and testing 46 distors.
There’s another issue, the upgrade. What happens when you want the latest Asterisk version on your distro? If you have a commercial one the vendor will eventually do it for you, but that might cost you both time and money. If not, than you’re at the mercy of the community maintaining the distro.
Maybe you’re involved,.
Maybe you should be, it’s your business.
What about extendability? Your clients want some functionality that’s not in your GUI of choice? You will definitely have to do it yourself. How many files have to be changed, additional “things” installed, changes to the database. It’s pretty easy while you’re doing it the first time, and fun too, but how do you repeat the process? Add that same “module” to some other installation? Document everything? Yeah that’s the fun part. And do the same 37 things all over again.
No wait I’ll make a script. And then, one day, the script stops working. They changed the distro, or whatever. So now you have script maintenance issues. Two clients with version 0.9.8.4.6.1.3.ra and one with version 0.9.8.7.4.8.6.rb and who knows how many others with random strings of characters in version numbers. Is it really worth it? I’ll just say that we don’t offer that functionality any more.
Easy, intuitive? Easy is not a bad word. Easy should be a prerogative. Doesn’t mean that you’re smart if you’re doing something a rookie is unable to do. It only means that you have time to waist. Asterisk is easy to install. Why? Because it’s predictable and because someone (Digium) keeps the order of things.
Well if it’s plain Asterisk no problem. Once I needed to change the misdn channel’s source files, but that was just one file. I saved the diff and that was a no-brainer to repeat. Later Digium updated the files so that was not necessary to do any more.
But with a big GUI distro, that made a mess of Astrisk’s cont files, that becomes an order of magnitude more complicated.
Windows infamous DLL Hell is nothing when compared to all of the above.
And what if you’re doing five other things? At the moment I’m doing at least 7. Besides the Asterisk maintenance and integration, there’s coding, web design, SEO, what not, accounting, business stuff… Do I really need to “learn” another paradigm? Of a questionable benefit and quality. It’s not like I’m trying to comprehend the string theory. It’s a mishmash of 20 -30 code stacks glued together in an unnatural liaison. And all the effort goes into making sure that the parts do not not fall out of the stack. So that brings us to the support. You need some way of keeping up with things.
The commercial GUIs offer payed support, training and certification. I would only pay for Digium’s excellent boot camp and dCAP (I plan to, in the future).
So what do I suggest? API. There is an API, the manager.
Many may disagree with me, but all those GUIs are uuuugly. That may be due to not being from the same code base. I know that many people from the Asterisk community think that to be a non-issue, but just look at Apple. What do you think sold the first one million ipods?. It was the beautiful user experience. Beautiful as in looks and beautiful as in simplicity.
Spying on me
It seems that some of GUI implementations have a “phone home” mechanism.
This is true for TrixBox and FreePBX. You can check out this post from TrixBox forums or this one from SlashDot. What if you’re doing a PBX for a government agency. In that case you (the PBX integrator) are committing a felony!
My way of doing things is adding value to Asterisk transparently. We’re about to start a beta of our BI reporting solution for Asterisk – SAM Reports on February the 22nd. We’ll take it from there…