New Mark Spencer Interview (Creator of Asterisk)
How old are you and when did you start to use Linux and becoming a part of the open-source community?
I am currently 29 years old and got involved with Linux in 1994 at the age of 17.
When, why and how did you start the Asterisk project?
I started Asterisk in 1999 for the purpose of being our internal PBX for "Linux Support Services", now called Digium. It wasn't until 2001 that the company changed its name to Digium and refocused around Asterisk.
Tell us something about your company digium. Is is a typical New Economy company?
It's a small company, with a very casual culture and a very passionate team. Changing the world is hard work and I'm very proud to have a team that is so dedicated to what we're doing.
How many people are working for digium and what kind of people are these?
There are about 60 people ranging from sales to engineering to testing.
How come you are located in Huntsville, Alabama?
We received some investment from Adtran, who is also based in Huntsville and moved at that time. Huntsville is a small technology town in Alabama. I call it "Sillicotton Valley".
What is your favorate OS? What OS do you run on your laptop?
Linux of course for both!
What is your favorate Linux editor?
And what is your favorate E-Mail client? ;-)
Let's jump to the old licence discussion. As other successfull Open-Source-Companies you have two different software licences for Asterisk. Why not just GPL?
While Open Source is an effective model for much comodity software, I feel it's an important feature to be able to allow people to play by both Open Source and Proprietary rules. However, unlike the LGPL, I think there *should* be a cost associated with using Asterisk with a proprietary product. Also, the GPL does not allow linkage to both other Open Source products under different licenses (e.g. OpenH323) nor to patent encumbered technologies like G.729. Again, I think it's important to have choice, but to be sure there is economic incentive to support Open Source.
What should a developer do who wants to add something to your GPL version but who doesn't want to give you all the rights for it?
This is actually a misunderstanding. When people contribute to Asterisk, we need them to grant us rights to use their contribution freely, but it does not take away their own rights to the code. We do not do copyright assignment (although we plan to offer an option for that, sould people prefer it). If you don't want to make such a disclaimer, you can always distribute your own GPL derivative work, but you cannot have your changes placed into what we distribute as Asterisk.
What do you think about the GPL licenced BRI-Stuff of the Junghanns people in Berlin?
I think it's an important technology -- to support BRI, but because we cannot integrate it in and still support technologies such as G.729, we have to use mISDN for that instead. Also, because there is no tracking of contributers, we do not know the source of the code in BRI-Stuff, so we cannot have as much confidence that it was appropriately sourced.
Let's come back to the normal Asterisk user. Everybody who uses the stable version has been in the situation to be forced for an update every 4-6 weeks in the last couple of month. Many people feel distressed about this. How does it come that you still find so many bugs in a stable version of such an important software?
Asterisk is a very complex product, which is used in an extremely wide variety of environments. With the exception of the recent denial of service attack against IAX, there are few of these issues which affect a broad range of users, yet it's important that they be fixed. For a more conservative release cycle, built upon formalized testing, BE is the proper product.
What is your Business Edition? What is the difference to the normal version?
BE is built entirely from source code originating in Open Source, with the exception of the copy protection and some partner products which are available for it. The primary differentiators with BE are the testing/release cycle, support and explicit commercial license. BE's cycle is extremely conservative, even in relation to "stable" releases like 1.2 and 1.4.
The first beta of version 1.4 is going to be released in the next couple of days. What will version 1.4 bring to the user? Does the normal admin who is happy with version 1.2 want to upgrade to 1.4?
As we say in Alabama "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". I would upgrade to 1.4 if you have a bug or if there are some features in 1.4 that you don't have on 1.2.
How long will you provide bugfixes for the 1.2 version?
So long as the 1.2 release maintainers are willing to do so.
Why are you planing to release a new stable version every 6 month? Many people have the feeling that a PBX software should be more conservative.
There is a balance between having a faster release cycle ("Release early, release often") which is associated with Open Source and a slower cycle associated with typical commercial packages. We believe it is important to release Asterisk in Open Source once per 6 months or so, and to use the Business Edition as the primariy platform for slower, formally tested releases. In this sense we can address both needs.