Mark Spencer who started Digium and wrote the Asterisk PBX software is one of the true pioneers of the post-PSTN era. Asterisk, an open source PBX/telephony platform has a million users worldwide and it is downloaded about 1000 times a day.
Asterisk is to telephony what Linux is to the web world – a platform that can truly cause long term change in the telecom/technology industry. In a brief phone chat, he explains what folks are doing with Asterisk, and other challenges that face the Web-VoIP mash-up.
Q: Why do you think Asterisk has become so popular even though there are many other open source PBX products?
A: One of the reasons is clearly because it has been around since 1999, and also the fact that it comes from a very pragmatic heritage. It is a product that addresses the real world, and is more inclusive in nature. It is not built around the academic ideas of features. Just because SIP is hot, doesn’t mean we can ignore the H.323 and TDM users. In the end we built a single platform that is very flexible.
Q: Explain, what you mean by flexible.
A: It can be used for anything from small business to large companies or even carriers. People are using it for phone-based pod casting. Spark Parking is using it for auto parking applications, while some students at NYU have come up with a VoIP-based blogging tool.
Q: One of my biggest complaints is that the IP telephony crowd and the Web application crowd don’t talk to each other much. Sure there are some applications that have come out lately, but the marriage of IP voice and web apps is still pretty rocky.
A: Yes that is true. At VoN we are rock stars because we are open source, but at Linux World, people don’t get as excited about VoIP. I think that is something we need to proactively address. We are making it easier for web developers to write for Asterisk. We have introduced AJI, which is like CGI for the Asterisk. That should help.
Q: Lastly, how would you describe yourself as a programmer?
A: People have this wrong notion that I am a good programmer. I am actually a lazy programmer; that is why I kept Asterisk so simple.