in Internet Services, Telephony

trying out [email protected]

I’ve recently been getting into voice-over-IP telephony, both due to my dayjob (where I’m now responsible for managing a very expensive but full-featured Cisco VoIP System) and my long-time desire to build a hobbyist PBX at home using Asterisk. I’d set up Asterisk under a FreeBSD 5.4 server some months ago, but got as far as installing a demo dialplan before I got distracted. This time around I decided to give [email protected] a spin, because it bundles many common Asterisk add-ons and features into an easy-to-install ISO backed by CentOS 4.x. (For those who don’t know what CentOS is, it’s basically a straight recompile of RedHat’s popular Enterprise Linux product, and as such, available for free.)

[email protected] 2.7 comes with a large variety of add-on software (in addition to the base OS and Asterisk 1.2.5). I was a little disappointed that the ISO did not permit me to select which of these I wished to install (do I really need SugarCRM?) but that definitely minimizes end-user bungling. One major complaint I have is that @Home tends to bolt on many of these components in the typical Linux hobbyist way; untarring junk all over the filesystem without integrating into the package management system that’s already built into CentOS and other RedHat variants. Surely someone could have written spec files to create RPMs out of everything, in order to facilitate future upgrades?

For the most part, the [email protected] Wiki is well-written and permits you to configure many of the basic functions of an Asterisk-based PBX, without much hassle. Beyond the Wiki, though, community support is hobbled by the fact that there is no support forum other than through Sourceforge’s kludgy forum interface, which has very minimal searching capabilities, no e-mail gateway option, and poor threading. I spent a long time trying to solve two main problems:

  1. Dialing the PBX and pressing # for the directory causes [email protected] to go into an infinite loop. Eventually I tracked this down to a bug in Asterisk Management Portal (AMP)
  2. Upgrading CentOS 4.2 to 4.3 using yum caused the zaptel driver to quit compiling. After more Googling I tracked this down to a typo in a kernel header file, which required me to hack the kernel sources.

Altogether I’m only moderately impressed with @Home. While Asterisk seems to be a good PBX, my initial impression of @Home is that it’s an interesting concept, but lacking a great deal of testing. Also, I’m very irritated with the poor quality of Sourceforge‘s support tools. (What’s the difference between a Bug and a Support Request?) Searching anything is basically useless as many of the search tools return “Not found” despite my a priori knowledge that certain keywords exist.

What I may end up doing is to grab my configuration files for @Home and reinstall a system with just plain Asterisk and add on the software (like AMP, a/k/a FreePBX) that I like.

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