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Asterisk: More Than 'Just' a PBX Powerhouse?

TORONTO -- Open source advocates have long pointed to Asterisk's ascendancy as one of the movement's great success stories. But for the founder of the open source PBX solution, Asterisk's success is just the beginning.

In fact, even with growing demand and more than a million downloads under its belt, the full-featured, open source IP-PBX for VoIP is old news, according to Mark Spencer, the software's original author, during his keynote here at the IT 360 conference today.

Instead, what's exciting is the road ahead, said Spencer, who now serves as CTO of Digium, the chief corporate player behind Asterix.

While open source has made tremendous inroads over the last few years in telecom, thanks in part to Spencer and Asterisk, it still has a ways to go before mounting a real challenge to the business's proprietary stalwarts, like Avaya and Cisco.

But Spencer said open source's further success in telecommunications faces some lingering misconceptions. He said many view Asterisk as a PBX and an application -- defined early on based on its core, traditional PBX features like call forwarding, voicemail and conferencing.

But Asterisk is actually a telephony engineering platform, he said. After all, it's laid the groundwork for developers to create a slew of intriguing telephony apps, he added.

One such creation is SwitchVox, an Asterisk-based PBX geared toward small and midsized businesses. SwitchVox, which Digium acquired last year, offers a user interface based on the familiar PBX design, making it easier for people to adopt, Spencer said.

Spencer said Asterix has been tapped for applications as diverse as a multimedia Times Square billboard, which uses the technology to pipe out streaming audio.

He also described Unwired Buyer, a phone-based interface to access eBay auctions as an Asterisk application with real business applicability.

But Asterix's development community certainly isn't without its whimsical side. For instance, Spencer mentioned the "Popularity Dialer" app, which places prescheduled calls to users -- giving them a convenient excuse to, say, escape a bad date. ("Oh, sorry -- that was the boss. I'm needed back at the office immediately.")

Then, there are features like so-called "queue games", designed to enhance the on-hold experience. Instead of simply having to suffer through hold music, users can play a pushbutton game that will either keep them entertained or even advance them in the queue.

"There are all kinds of clever applications that people have come up with to solve various needs they might have," Spencer told the capacity crowd. "Most don't have a revenue model."