An Interview with Schmooze Com Inc. CEO Tony Lewis

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  July 09, 2014

How did the FreePBX Project get started?

FreePBX was initially designed as a simple GUI for managing Asterisk (News - Alert) configs and has since become the most prevalent open source PBX in the world. Today’s FreePBX includes hundreds of pre-built features, and an easy management tool for implementation and scaling from SMB to enterprise installations. Before FreePBX, all configuration of Asterisk was done by hand. It was not in any manner user friendly, and if you had textermaphobia (fear of the command line) you were out of luck. Even if you were comfortable in the command line and config files you still had to manage them all, which didn’t scale very well. FreePBX quickly grew from four simple database tables to a modular design allowing developers to add their own applications along with hooks into the GUI and Dial Plan. This added capability enabled the project to take the leap from hobbyist to mainstream, allowing system integrators to use the platform for their commercial installs. FreePBX has had various project leaders over the years from across the globe come and go as they had time to work on the project, but it is currently managed by Schmooze (News - Alert) Com Inc. Schmooze’s business model is completely focused on FreePBX’s success and the continued expansion of the FreePBX EcoSystem. 

How does FreePBX compare to other open source alternatives?
 

Most of the direct competitors to FreePBX are closed source or proprietary solutions; however, over the years there have been various open source competitors that have come and gone. Most alternatives you find will likely be underdeveloped or focused on a different objective or component of telephony, or not primarily designed as a PBX (News - Alert). Most do not have the luxury of a corporate sponsorship or a dedicated development staff. You will find that some of the more impressive and vibrant alternatives are not actually open source, and are only available through commercial license. Developing a project like FreePBX is not a trivial task, it has taken us a decade of work to get where we are today.

How does FreePBX compare to proprietary PBXs?
 

Many of the proprietary PBXs started out as exclusive hardware-based solutions, basing entire offerings around their own hardware chassis combined with proprietary phones. This meant great margins for the legacy PBX providers, but really high prices for customers and limited or zero flexibility in system design. Most proprietary vendors still stick to this approach preferring to make their margins on equipment, licensing fees, or extensive certification and training requirements. Many of the original commercial offerings FreePBX was designed to compete with are no longer around, as they didn’t successfully make the move to a software-centric based approach. FreePBX has always been a software-based offering built upon open source, and open standards, allowing integrators to build systems with the hardware and endpoints that fit their particular needs. FreePBX includes built-in features that rival or surpass most commercial PBX offerings available today, and it’s modular design allows administrators and developers to continue to push the envelope and add new features and applications.

Can I use my existing phones and other infrastructure with FreePBX?
 

FreePBX is built on open standards, so as long as your infrastructure can speak those standards, then FreePBX is very likely compatible. If FreePBX cannot directly interact with your existing infrastructure, there are many hardware-based solutions that can be put in place to enable this compatibility. Examples include PSTN cards, gateways, channel banks, and other solutions that can be used to interconnect with existing systems. Many companies will utilize FreePBX to migrate from end-of-life systems using their existing handsets, then over time, or as budgets allow, migrate systems to new infrastructure.


Can I use UC apps and mobility features with FreePBX?
 

Yes. FreePBX supports mobility features like find me/follow me, mobile twinning, remote extensions, and various softphone applications, including WebRTC that provides out-of-the-box mobility to end users. With FreePBX being open source it can and has been integrated with multiple applications including various CRM/VoIP applications and corporate e-mail/messaging systems. The FreePBX Distro installs open standards components, such as support for faxing, instant messaging protocols like XMPP/Jabber, e-mail connectivity along with various APIs and interfaces to assist users and developers to link and unify with their existing infrastructure. There are also various certified add-ons that provide turnkey integration with various other platforms, further demonstrating the flexibility of FreePBX.

Why should I consider FreePBX over proprietary PBXs? Aren't they more stable?
 

We are at a point in our lifecycle where we are very stable. There are millions of systems in production with that number growing each day. The FreePBX platform is well established and tested worldwide. We accomplish stability through use and feedback rather than through restriction. If your proprietary PBX has a bug, you may have one source to get it fixed. This may also heavily depend on you convincing that one source that there is actually an issue. As with features, issues that do come up can usually be addressed by the FreePBX community. This means you don't necessarily need to rely on the vendor fixing an issue, since it can be fixed by any individual with the skills to do so. With FreePBX you also have thousands of peers who can verify, troubleshoot, and help you fix your issue. We also have a transparent bug process where you can submit your issues for the world to see and help correct.

What is the FreePBX EcoSystem and who is involved?
 

The Official FreePBX EcoSystem is a collaboration that exists to help provide proven hardware, software, and services to users implementing FreePBX solutions. The FreePBX EcoSystem includes consultants, service providers, developers, and hardware manufacturers, all working for the FreePBX community at large under a single worldwide program designed to make it easier for customers to use FreePBX, get new features, and receive assistance when needed.

How often does FreePBX update its software, and how are those updates pushed out to users?
 

The FreePBX Project maintains both the FreePBX Software, as well as the FreePBX Distro, which includes a full turnkey installation of all the components required to build a system with FreePBX. FreePBX itself is modular software package, which allows the developers to provide inline updates for the various modules, and end users can update various modules or applications as needed. In the latest versions of our module administration tool for FreePBX, we allow administrators to choose if they want to participate in beta versions of modules or roll back updates of modules if needed. For the Distro, we provide updates for the entire platform including components, such as the operating system, telephony engine, and the hundreds of other software packages that make up a full communications system. FreePBX is constantly evolving and providing users with updates; we put the power in the system administrators’ hands to decide if they would like to keep systems on known stable versions or push the envelope with us as we continue to add new features and functionality.

What kind of support is available to FreePBX users?
 

Being an open source community, FreePBX users have a wide range of support options starting with a very active online forum at community.freepbx.org. Tens of thousands of knowledgeable participants are also involved with an actively monitored IRC Channel (#freepbx on Freenode) and for in-depth documentation we provide a constantly updated wiki (see wiki.freepbx.org). In addition to free support options, the project also employs a team of professional support engineers that can be engaged on an hourly or contract basis to support systems all around the world. The FreePBX team also conducts certified training and provides resources for our resellers in the form of our channel partner program.

What's the significance of the frog as the FreePBX mascot?
 

Since FreePBX began a decade ago, a red-eyed tree frog has always been associated with the brand. We call this frog Tango. The tree frog was chosen as the mascot of FreePBX because the frog is always moving forward. Tango continues to leap forward and leaves the proprietary systems of the past behind. 




Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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