Microsoft® Response Point™ PBX, Asterisk® and Beyond

Philippe asked me to post some great stuff I’ve been working on recently. So my name is Ethan Schroeder, and in case you are wondering, I’m one of the organizers of the Open Telephony Training Seminar coming up in a few weeks.

With the "analysts", integrators and Microsoft fan-boys (and girls) going crazy over the Microsoft® Response Point™ PBX, I wondered what all the fuss was about. It has some interesting UC/UM (Unified
Communications/Unified Messaging) stuff that links into the Microsoft family of products. Microsoft’s new Office Communications 2007 server really seems to shine in the UC/UM realm. Then I saw a video on the
Response Point "magic button." A voice recognition button for a PBX? It appeared that Microsoft really did something here.

I wondered to myself if Asterisk could do it. A while back I utilized the LumenVox speech recognition software for Linux/Asterisk to build a speech enabled company directory for Asterisk. That was pretty cool, but a magic button would be a Killer App.

From the start of a dream to actual implementation was quite an experience. Creating a button that works when you are not in a call for some functionality (call initiation) and works while you are IN a call
for call control turned out to be a difficult task, but I managed to make it work.

The result is a magic button that when pushed plays a fun tone and let’s me speak to my phone system in wondrous ways:

  • "call John Smith"
    or "dial John Smith" – dials by name (John Smith, John) or extension number
    (Four-thousand-one/4-zero-zero-1/4’oo’1), or even speak the digits of a 7, 10, or 11 digit phone number.

  • "Transfer to John Smith"
    – transfers a call to a name or extension.

  • "Transfer to John Smith’s Voicemail"
    or "Transfer voicemail John Smith" – transfers the call directly into John Smith’s voicemail.

  • "Park call"
    or "Park caller", parks the call and announces the parking slot.

  • "Retrieve calls"
    – queries asterisk for all the parked calls and gives the user their options using the Flite text-to-speech engine (which I’ll soon be switching over to the incredibly cool Cepstral
    engine with their new "Asterisk Allison" voice).

  • "Retrieve call [parking slot]"
    – Retrieves a specific parked call.
  • Needless to say, that’s only the beginning!

Want to see this in action, and even take home the technology? I’m demonstrating it all to participants of the FreePBX training when I present in South Carolina February 27-29th, 2008. I’ll also be giving away all the parts to make the magic button work, the AGI, LumenVox configs, Asterisk dial plans and an Asterisk 1.2.x patch required for the parking feature, back ported from 1.4. All you need is a LumenVox starter kit and it looks like you’ll get that too. To quote LumenVox: "FreePBX provides a user-friendly and full-featured wrapper to Asterisk, and we are pleased that LumenVox speech recognition capabilities are embedded and will be part of this new training course." Gerd Graumann, Director of Business Development, LumenVox. This is an exclusive for attendees. All of this will coincide with my talk about Microsoft, the potential threat, and the future of Asterisk with Microsoft on the horizon of the
PBX market (it’s not as bad as you think).

A magic button isn’t the only goodie you’ll get, either. Philippe has some other un-released modules he plans on bringing along that help make your life easier for various tasks. We’ve been working with Philippe for quite a while on custom projects for customers, and I’m still really excited
about what he is releasing. And then there are the goodies from the other vendors, but we are not going to go there. The value of the class is in the knowledge we will bring you. You don’t have to go to such a training just to get a free phone, chances at free cards, T-Shirts or a one time opportunity to purchase TDM phone cards at prices you will never see again. The fact that you may get some of that is a nice bonus…

So if you haven’t already, take a peek at the training and see if you can attend. Get all the info on the traing site. As Philippe has already mentioned, we’re almost full and if you want to stay at the hotel where the event is at, you better be the next one or two registrations because as far as I recall, that’s about the number of rooms we have left before you’ll have to stay at a different hotel!

I’m looking forward to seeing you and showing you this really cool speech technology!


Training and Beta Program Update

If you follow our blog then you know we are actively preparing for the Open Telephony Training Seminar next month and are also several weeks into the ongoing FreePBX 2.4 beta program. It is time to give you an update on how these two central activities are progressing and make sure you don’t miss out on some of the great discounts that are soon to come to an end.

Open Telephony Training Seminar

If you hadn’t already seen our announcement, you can read it here or get more details by clicking on:

Open Telephony Training Seminar

There have been some great discounts available but all good things must come to an end! Was procrastination on your New Years resolutions list (as in stopping)? If so it’s time to make good on your commitment if you plan on attending. The current $600 training discount will end on Friday, January 18TH so if you want to take advantage of this rate, register now! Also, our discounted rate with the hotel expires a few days after that.

2.4 Beta Program

We’ve now been in beta for 5 weeks and the results look promising. The feedback is very positive and would normally lead us to release candidate stage (rc1). However, although we have seen more than 500 beta sites, it’s still not quite the numbers we like to have to make the decision to move to rc1. We need either more time, or more testers and we prefer the latter so if you have not yet loaded it, go find a spare system and help us test! (VMware machines work well also.)

If you like to live on the edge with Asterisk, we’ve applied several patches in 2.4 to enable it to run on Asterisk 1.6, otherwise known as their SVN trunk. One of our developers, pnlarsson, has been busy on the bleeding edge (as he was with 1.4) proving Uncle Ward right in his Some Asterisk Resolutions for the New Years blog post about the constant changes they are making. And the really cool thing is 2.4 continues the legacy that 2.3 started – you can run Asterisk 1.2, 1.4 and now 1.6 on it – and all the compatibility magic is done for you!

In order to help spice up some possible interest, we just checked in some additions that we’ve been toying with for some time. If you’ve ever played with DUNDi on a FreePBX based system then you know it can be done but requires more comfort and expertise then many of you may have to customize the dialplan. Well, we just added DUNDi to the outbound trunks which should take the barrier of entry down one notch. You must still setup dundi.conf based on the layout of your DUNDi cluster but once you’ve done that you should be able to do everything else in FreePBX! And the setup is easier then you might think!

If you have been playing with 2.4 you may be familiar with the new extension registry that helps keep your system clean from duplicate numbering conflicts. If you haven’t seen this, just try creating a Ring Group with the same number as an Extension and see what happens. Now consider a branch office DUNDi cluster with this new mechanism, wouldn’t it be nice to see the same level of integrity applied across your branch office cluster? Come to the training and see how to take FreePBX to this next level, as just one example of the many advanced tools you will get in your “bag of tricks” with us! And that’s just a glimpse of what we will provide to enhance your existing knowledge or augment previous basic training you may have received. You won’t get this anywhere else!

Now go out there and help us move towards a final release with all the great new stuff in FreePBX 2.4! And if you are thinking about the training seminar, don’t procrastinate and take advantage of the great savings going on right now.

Philippe – on behalf of the FreePBX Team!