Linux Support Services
Way, way back in 1999 a young man named Mark Spencer was finishing his Computer Engineering degree at Auburn University when he hit on an interesting business concept. 1999 was the high point in the .com revolution (aka bubble), and thousands of businesses world-wide were discovering that they could save money by using the open source Linux operating system in place of proprietary operating systems. The lure of a free operating system with open access to the source code was too much to pass up. Unfortunately there was little in the way of commercial support available for Linux at that time. Mark decided to fill this gap by creating a company called "Linux Support Services". LSS offered a support hotline that IT professionals could (for a fee) call to get help with Linux.
The idea took off. Within a few months, Mark had a small office staffed with Linux experts. Within a few more months the growth of the business expanded demanded a "real" phone system that could distribute calls evenly across the support team, so Mark called up several local phone system vendors and asked for quotes. Much to his surprise, the responses all came back well above $50,000 -- far more than Mark had budgeted for the project. Far more than LSS could afford.
Finding a Solution
Rather than give in and take out a small business loan, Mark made a pivotal decision. He decided to write his own phone system. Why not? A phone system is really just a computer running phone software, right? Fortunately for us, Mark had no idea how big a project he had take on. If he had known what a massive undertaking it was to build a phone system from the ground up might have gritted his teeth, borrowed the money and spent the next decade doing Linux support. But he didn't know what he didn't know, and so he started to code. And he coded. And he coded.
Mark had done his engineering co-op at Adtran, a communications and networking device manufacturer in Huntsville, AL. There he had cut his teeth on telecommunications system development, solving difficult problems generating a prodigious amount of complex code in short time. This experience proved invaluable as he began to frame out the system which grew into Asterisk. In only a few months Mark crafted the original Asterisk core code. As soon as he had a working prototype he published the source code on the Internet, making it available under the GPL license (the same license used for Linux).
Within a few months the idea of an "open source PBX" caught on. There had been a few other open source communications projects, but none had captured the imagination of the global population of communications geeks like Asterisk. As Mark labored on the core system, hundreds (now thousands) of developers from all over the world began to submit new features and functions.
What became of Linux Support Services? In 2001, Linux Support Services changed its name to Digium. Digium continued to develop Asterisk in collaboration with the community, provide services to support the development community, as well as build commercial products and services around Asterisk which have fueled growth in both Digium and the Asterisk project. You can find out more about Digium at the Sangoma website and on wikipedia.
Asterisk in the Present
Asterisk is constantly evolving to meet the needs of the project's user-base. It's difficult to summarize the vast scope of everything that Asterisk can do as a communications toolkit. We'll list some resources that give you an idea of what is going on in the Asterisk project at present.
- Asterisk Versions :Shows release time lines, support and EOL schedules
- Roadmap section :Information from developer conferences and planning sessions
- CHANGES :A document in Asterisk trunk, shows functionality changes between major versions
- UPGRADE :A document in Asterisk trunk, shows breaking changes, deprecation of specific features and important info on upgrading.
- Mailing lists :The dev list is a great list to see what hot topics the developers are discussing in real-time.