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Summary Easy-to-install and configure 3rd party distro of the popular open source VoIP PBX.
Update 9/13/2005 - Corrected info on relationship between Asterisk and AAH
Pros • Easy install with bundled OS
• All admin via web-based GUI
Cons • Minimal troubleshooting help docs

With the costs for VoIP coming down, the acceptance of personal use of Vonage et al. for home phones rising, and open source projects becoming more capable, Asterisk is at the cutting edge of a new breed of PBX-replacement products for small and medium business.

The idea is to take a Linux PC, add some hardware to connect to a few analog telephones, connect the PC to a broadband Internet connection and run some software. Through the magic of VoIP and open source code, you'll have a low-cost alternative telephone switch with the ability to handle multiple incoming and outgoing calls. With minimal effort and cost, you can sound like the best business phone system with music on hold, call transfer, and individual voice mail boxes for pennies per call.

What Vonage did for the individual callers, Asterisk is now doing for the PBX. And while it will take some work to setup and some familiarity with networking and VoIP operation, I found the system to be a very capable and affordable alternative to a closed - and expensive - PBX solution.

Updated 9/13/2005

When I logged on the Asterisk IRC channel I couldn't get a very clear answer as to the actual differences between Asterisk and Asterisk@Home (AAH). But a helpful reader since provided some info to help clear my confusion.

Asterisk is an open source software VoIP PBX sponsored primarily by Digium, a company that also manufactures hardware VoIP products. Asterisk@Home is a third-party distribution that contains Asterisk, FOP (Flash Operator Panel), and several other third-party add-ons available for Asterisk.

AAH is available in two flavors - as a package to install on an existing Linux installation, or as a CD Image (iso format) that includes the CentOS 3 Linux distribution. It allows the user to manage all VoIP activity from a web-based control panel viewable from any networked computer.

Asterisk@Home is so titled because it is intended to simplify the Asterisk product for home users. AAH can be controlled from a web interface, while Asterisk does everything via command line and configuration files. But although the user interface is more user-friendly, AAH has the same capabilities as Asterisk. Knowledgeable AAH users can still use the command-line interface to make configuration changes, but care must be taken to avoid having those changes overwritten by the web interface.

Note that both Asterisk and AAH require a dedicated computer. With an adequately-equipped machine, AAH can manage even hundreds of phone lines, and even a 2GHz or so desktop should be able to handle a few dozen. AAH is ideal for small businesses and home users that need a cheap VoIP setup for handling multiple calls.

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