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!

Ethan

FreePBX 2.4.0rc1 Available Now – Final Release Imminent

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The 2.4 release has been in Beta since December 11th and the stability has been proving itself out quite nicely. With over 800 beta sites and the almost non-existent flow of bug reports we feel very confident bringing you the Release Candidate for this next release.

You can find an overview of what it brings you in our original beta program announcement and some additional information on our recent blog post on the subject, and as always check the 2.4 Milestone Page for a rundown of information and links into all the bugs and features requests associated with this release.

If you like what you see and the work that has gone into this release, we always appreciate hearing your feedback through the press of this button:















Donate

or if you have been avoiding the donate button because it is not a "clean" tax write off, feel free to visit the Paid Support Page. You can purchase support and contact us to tell us to apply it towards the management of the project, towards specific bug fixes, or towards real support issues if you are looking for a hand.

With the 2.4 release going as strong as it has, we anticipate a quick transition to the final 2.4.0 release within a couple of weeks. If you are headed to Charleston, South Carolina for the Open Telephony Training Seminar, the timing could not have been better! We will be going over the changes and some great things that you can do in 2.4 that you can’t on prior releases. If you are still procrastinating but thinking of coming – you may want to make your final decision. The training is close to full and at the time of this writing, the reserved hotel rooms are almost gone (I think we have 2 left) and you’ll end up at a neighboring hotel after those are gone.

For now, if you have been running the 2.4 beta, check your system for online updates and bump yourself to Release Candidate 1. If you need to start clean, you can get the tarball from our mirror site, see the Download Instructions. For those of you running 2.3 and will want to upgrade when it is final, you will have the opportunity to do so through the Module Online Repository but that won’t be enabled until we go final. Despite our confidence, we don’t want people upgrading by accident until the release is final.

Hop on there and start testing now and help get this out the door!

Philippe – On behalf of the FreePBX Team

Training Discounts from Sangoma Sell Out

As the title says, the two Sangoma discounts came and went and with them, the training is quickly reaching capacity. In fact, we were surprised to see a third registration come in with the SANGOMA discount code. An administrative error on our part allowed for an additional discount to get through so congratulations on that third registration slipping threw the cracks! On top of it – we have exceeded our block of rooms with the hotel although they have told us they will continue to honor the rate through tomorrow (1/23) – unless they sell out of rooms which is quickly happening.

Since the scholarship program with Sangoma has worked out so well for two individuals (well three…) we have had requests from some other manufactures asking if they could participate. We are currently talking with them so all may not be lost and if we work something out we will let you know. If we come through, be ready to act quick because the current trend indicates they will probably sell out as quick as the Sangoma deal did. And this time, we know how to configure the system to keep from another administrative error.


FreePBX 2.4 Podcast on The VoIP Experience

While I’m blogging – let me give you a pointer to a podcast I just did with cosmicwombat’s “The VoIP Experience” that he posted about on the forum. This is the second of a 3 part series that he has been running and the focus on the recent talk was FreePBX 2.4. So if you have not listened and want to hear a summary of what’s been going on, it’s available now. (and we spend some time catching you up since 2.2 for those who have not made the move to 2.3)

Philippe – on behalf of the FreePBX team!

Asterisk 1.6 Support on 2.4 and SANGOMA Offers More Discounts!

Things have been busy here at FreePBX with the 2.4 Beta program and all the interest in our Open Telephony Training Seminar. If that has not been enough and you didn’t hear, the Asterisk team announced the formal start of their 1.6beta1 yesterday! If you’ve been following our news then you know that we have been busy trying to keep up with 1.6 in our 2.4 beta so we are ahead of the game this time. More on that later, let’s catch you up on the up and coming training program.

Training Class over half filled and Sangoma offers two more discounts

We thought we were bad procrastinators but after this week and especially yesterday’s registrations that came pouring in, we feel a lot better! With class capacity well over half in just a short few weeks it looks like we got your attention in our last blog post but as we said, all good things must come to an end and as Friday has come and gone, so has the great EARLYBIRD discount we were offering. Alas, all is not lost if you missed the deadline. We’ve been talking with Sangoma about the training event and filling them in on the plans. Needless to say they are really excited about what we have going and asked if they could sponsor a couple additional discounts to help those REAL procrastinators who missed out. So … compliments of Sangoma, they have provided two $500 scholarships for the next two participants who sign up. The only catches are as follows. First, these coupons ‘turn into pumpkins’ and expire this Friday, January 25th. If it helps to motivate you, the great hotel rates go away January 23rd or when our block of rooms get exhausted, which ever comes first. Don’t procrastinate any longer! The second catch, Sangoma hopes that if you take them up on this, the next time you purchase a TDM card you will consider buying one of theirs. And stay tuned, because there may be a great one time opportunity at the training to make good on this at prices that you may never see again. So jump on this now and enter SANGOMA into the coupon code on the registration page and make sure you don’t miss out on this great opportunity! Remember, only the first two coupons will work.

Beta 2.4 – When will it become a Release Candidate?

The Beta Program continues to go strong and it looks like our request for more testers has helped bump up the beta sites a bit. We are approaching 700 beta sites with a mixture of 2/3 running Asterisk 1.4 and 1/3 running 1.2. (And the other few running 1.6 – more on that). You can get an overview of the program status on the FreePBX 2.4 Milestone link. For those of you who were staying away from the trac system because the performance had gotten so painfully slow, go take a look because we finally found the culprit and things are back to normal! As you can see there are 213/220 bugs closed last time we checked – and most of those are bugs that were carried over from 2.3 or prior and only addressed in 2.4. In addition to those, there are all the Feature Request tickets that were added as well as details on what the milestone has been about.

Since the beta sites are increasing and we are feeling really good about the release, we will watch it closely over the next week and if all goes well, we will move it to Release Candidate (rc1) status. If it continues on track, we may see a final release shortly there after!

Asterisk 1.6 on FreePBX 2.4?

Thanks to the ongoing work by pnlarsson, one of our newer developers, we continue to have patches to keep FreePBX 2.4 running on Asterisk 1.6. As we mentioned above, they just announced the formal start of their 1.6beta1 so we anticipate there may be a surge of interest on this branch. Does this mean FreePBX 2.4 will officially support Asterisk 1.6? That is a hard question to answer. We can tell you that 2.4 continues the legacy that version 2.3 started, which is simultaneous support for Asterisk versions 1.2, 1.4 and to the best of our limited testing, 1.6 also. Therefore, we will take 1.6 related bug reports very seriously even after the final 2.4 release. But until testing steps up and Asterisk 1.6 makes its way out of their own beta program, we won’t know how close we are. Also, 1.6 will be in its very early days and as such very bleeding edge for some time. However – we are excited to contribute back to the Asterisk team by providing a mechanism that will allow large numbers of users to kick the tires on 1.6 and help their efforts to drive it to a stable release!

For now – happy beta testing!

Philippe – on behalf of the FreePBX Team

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!