FreePBX 14, Distro 14 & More!

It’s sure been an amazing year here at Sangoma. We are finally proud to announce the official stable release of FreePBX 14 and also the stable release of our Enterprise Linux 7 based distro which contains many updated system libraries, not least of which is PHP 5.6.31, NodeJS 8.1.4, and Python 3.6.

Over the last 16 months, we’ve been hard at work developing FreePBX 14, and we’d like to highlight four (of the many) major improvements: Auto-Update Security Releases, Distro updates in Module Admin, Calendar Module, and an upgraded User Control Panel (UCP). To learn more about all of the new features of FreePBX 14 make sure to checkout our last blog on FreePBX: https://www.freepbx.org/freepbx-14-release-candidate/

Since then, we’ve also introduced a few major features in parallel into FreePBX 13 (that are also in FreePBX 14), the most significant one being multiple and improved directory support in User Manager. Now you can setup multiple Active Directories, LDAP directories and internal directories to control the Users that are on your PBX. FreePBX will even auto create extensions for you from your remote directories. Of course, as FreePBX is an Open Source project, this is all completely free!

You may be asking yourself “What does a new version of PHP or NodeJS get me?”. Previously in FreePBX 13 and lower we were working with PHP 5.3 and NodeJS 0.12. By requiring newer versions of these as part of FreePBX 14, apart from significant improvements in the languages themselves, the performance improvements are the most noticeable difference. This means you’ll have a snappier FreePBX on your hand, with much quicker reload times. Behind the scenes, on the back end, we are also able to utilize new libraries that also have performance improvements in themselves.


https://lornajane.net/posts/2014/php-5-6-benchmarks/

We’ve started work on FreePBX 15 which we hope to have an early release of in October 2017. Three of the most important features we are planning for FreePBX 15 is a complete revamp of our RestAPI, Backup and Restore upgrades, so you will – in the future – be able to restore from and to a different versions (Only 15 and higher, so will be able to restore – for example – 15 into 16 or 17 into 15), and a new File Store module, which will allow you to store backups (or faxes and other files) on S3, FTP, email, ssh and more!

Over the next year we will also be working on bringing FreePBX onto PHP 7.x with commercial modules.

With the release of this blog we have also released a version of the FreePBX module “Version Upgrader”, which is for standard manual, or custom installed systems, and will help the owner upgrade all the associated packages (PHP, and Node, as mentioned above). For FreePBX Distro installs we are fine tuning and checking a simple one-line command that you can run on your server to upgrade the Operating System to 7, and FreePBX to 14 at the same time, all automatically. Of course, when running this RPM your system will reboot and there will be downtime, and there are some minor prerequisites (such as a 64 bit machine, and at least 10gb of free space). As of today the distro upgrader is being released as a public beta, and more information is available on our wiki page: https://wiki.freepbx.org/display/PPS/Upgrading+from+Distro+6

Please remember, as adoption of FreePBX grows there may be things we missed. If you find any issues please open a bug at https://issues.freepbx.org and we’ll look into it as soon as we can. You can also ask for help on our Community Forums, where you may be able to get assistance from experts in the community, too.

Thank you for using FreePBX and we look forward to what develops through 2017!

The Value of a Professional Voice

I regularly contribute blog articles and speak at telephony conferences about IVR Best Practices. One of the key points that I always wish to impart is: getting your auto-attendant and IVR prompts voiced by a professional is not only be a great idea – it’s a move which will inform your callers of your professionalism and overall image awareness.

One popular line of thinking is: “Let’s just get the person answering phones at the front desk to voice the message. They talk all day, how hard can it be?”

And it’s true: your front-office staffers are probably very capable, and even willing to voice your custom prompts – and they may even do an acceptable job. But there can be issues with using staff instead of hiring a voice-over pro.

The Employee Working the Front Desk Can Change. The staffer that you enlist to voice your auto attendant might move to a different position or leave the company. Now making changes to your IVR becomes an issue. Do you just use another employee? I recently called the IVR of the largest cable provider in Canada, and I counted 15 different voices on their IVR. It sounds inconsistent, disorganized, and amateurish. You want to demonstrate continuity and professionalism when clients call your business. A professional IVR, using the same voice for all the prompts in your system, will give callers a sense of consistency, familiarity, and stability.

Employees Will Be Recording Directly Into the Phone. When you hire a voice-over professional, you’re getting clean, clear digital files, recorded in a professional environment. The files can be converted into any format/codec your system requires. You want to project an image of a professional company. Editing is included, removal of breathing, unnecessary pauses and background noises make the professional difference.

Professionals are Available and You Are Not Taking Them Off a Project. Chances are – even though a staffer might be on your actual premises – they may not be available for corrections/additions/updates the way a dedicated professional would be. Your staffer was hired for a purpose – and voicing telephone prompts isn’t what they should be busy with. A task like voicing and editing prompts for the phone menu will likely get stuffed down on the list of importance, and not be given the proper attention – whereas it’s my core competency.

There’s a Reason Why My Husband and I Go Out for Sushi Instead of Making it at Home. I’m a pretty fair cook, and can actually make my own sushi at home – but not easily and not quickly. It’s a skillset – and if making sushi was my job, I’d be pretty darn good at it. Letting a professional prepare your sushi means you don’t have to worry about all the ingredients and steps; you simply get to enjoy a great experience. So it is with IVR.

Computer-Generated Voices Sound like Computers. Another perceived “shortcut” which many view as a work-around to hiring a pro to voice your system is the implement a Text to Speech utility – where phrases are typed in and the utility spews forth sentences. While a good stop-gap measure/temporary replacement for “holes” in your IVR, even the well-executed ones will always have an “automated” sound to them. There are many people that are turned off by a machine recording, saying it feels impersonal. (When I voiced the Allison TTS Engine – Cepstral’s #1-selling TTS voice – clients kidded me that I’ve replaced myself with a “machine”. Even the one built on my voice is a poor substitute for custom IVR recorded from scratch.)

The takeaway: while everyone can speak, hiring a professional to voice your auto attendant, IVR, greetings, and on-hold systems makes a much better impression on customers, setting your company above your competition and demonstrating your professionalism. Professional IVR is an easy and affordable investment in your corporate image and should be a serious consideration for anyone building a phone system your customers will use daily.

Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, heard on platforms for Cisco, Vonage, ShoreTel, Bell Canada, Cincinnati Bell, Mitel, and the Asterisk Open Source PBX. Web: www.theivrvoice.com. Twitter: @voicegal. You can purchase her custom professional voice prompts easily and directly from Sangoma in the FreePBX Store.

Webinar: Improve Team Collaboration with Sangoma’s Zulu UC Softphone

Sangoma webinar

Thursday, June 1, 2017 @ 7AM & 2PM EDT

Register

As more of today’s workforce is working outside of the office, organizations need to update their communication tools to ensure team collaboration is up to speed.

Sangoma’s Zulu UC is the ultimate Desktop integration tool that improves work place productivity and communication. Designed for FreePBX and PBXact Phone Systems, Zulu offers many features and benefits to your employees.

Zulu UC Features

  • Zulu Softphone client, featuring:
    • Chat – Includes individual / group messaging with emojis
    • SMS & FAX with SIPStation service
    • Contact Calling – So you never have to remember anyone’s phone number
  • Click-to-Call from Web Browsers, Outlook Email Client and CRM Helpdesks
  • Call-Pop for helpdesk integration

Coming Soon: Zulu Mobile Client for iOS / Android and Screen Sharing

Attendees of this live webinar will receive 50% off a 1-year license of Zulu UC. See below for terms and details.

This is the best deal we’ve released this year, so don’t miss out!

*Offer includes 50% off a 1-year license of Zulu UC inside the Sangoma Portal Store. Promotion valid from Thursday June 1, 2017 at 12:00AM EDT until Friday June 16, 2017 at 11:59PM EDT. Not valid on prior purchases. All transactions must be completed, checked out and paid in full by the cut off time. No extensions or exceptions will be made. Offer applies to 1-year license only. All prices are listed in USD, and priced as listed at time of checkout. Sangoma is not responsible for typo’s or omissions in prices listed above, module purchases are subject to the commercial module EULA. Purchases must be made directly in the Portal store, as promotion codes are not integrated into Module Admin purchasing within the FreePBX GUI. Please ensure you are choosing the correct PBX deployment you wish to purchase add-ons for, we cannot move licenses once purchased.

The Next Generation of SIPStation Service

There once was a time where traditional telecom providers were the only available option for phone service, telling YOU what service you can have and at what price. That was until providers, such as Sangoma, offered a significantly better alternative through SIP Trunking, allowing you to connect to a provider using your standard Internet connection and receive flexible and rich services at up to 60% less vs the cost of traditional services.

For years now, Sangoma Technologies has been providing high quality Voice Over IP (VoIP) phone service, with no-contract, for North America using its own SIP trunking service, called SIPStation. Designed for the highly popular FreePBX and PBXact phones systems, SIPStation offers an unrivaled approach for activation and provisioning, getting your service up and running within minutes. The ingenuity is all built into the SIPStation Store, which allows you to purchase and automatically configure your service all in one go. In fact, this is built into Admin GUI of the PBX, where you can even sign up for a 21-day “no-strings attached” trial.

Today, we are excited to announce the next generation of the SIPStation service, which offers more flexible service options, meaning more cost savings for our customers! This is all made possible with the introduction of Trunk Groups. This allows customers to share their voice services across multiple office locations. Prior to this update, customers requiring service for their branch sites needed dedicated voice lines (or SIP trunks) for each site, which means dedicated monthly costs for sites that many not even have high call volume. Now, with the new Trunk Group feature, customers can choose to share their voice lines across all their sites, offering significant cost savings. The new feature also allows customers to share their phone numbers (or DIDs) across different phone lines too!

Leveraging the power of Trunk Groups, the new SIPStation also offers enhanced failover options, keeping your service UP and running when things go wrong. With Trunk Groups, if one of your locations PBX goes down you can have your inbound calls, on a per phone number (DID) basis, automatically failover to different PBX(s) in your trunk group and still receive your inbound calls.

To see some of the key advantages SIPStation has to offer for your FreePBX and PBXact phone system, please visit: https://wiki.freepbx.org/display/ST/SIPStation+Key+Features+with+FreePBX+and+PBXact

Stay tuned for more great upcoming features!

FreePBX 14 Release Candidate

It’s been over two years since the team at Sangoma set out to give FreePBX a facelift, and over a year since we completed that goal when FreePBX 13 went stable.

In the last 12 months, we’ve implemented hundreds of new features for FreePBX 13 while continuing to grow our Unified Communications product lines through Zulu. We released 6 formerly commercial modules as open source, emphasizing our support of open source. We’ve also added over 41,000 lines of new code while welcoming an additional 18 new contributors.

We also introduced Edge Mode for bleeding-edge module upgrades, support for Asterisk 14, improved reload times, self signing of modules and a new improved certificate manager that supports Let’s Encrypt. While adding all those new features, we’ve also fixed (at time of writing) 1185 reported issues.

For a full list of everything that was accomplished during our 13-release checkout our roadmap.

Making FreePBX Modern

One of the biggest problems we’ve run into over the past few years working on FreePBX 13 was the fact that we were basing FreePBX 13 around the PHP 5.3 platform. PHP 5.3 was released June 30th, 2009. With the release of FreePBX 14 we now require PHP 5.6 which was released August 28th, 2014. That’s over 5 years of improvements, which has resulted – among other things – in considerable performance improvements with 14 compared to version 13.

Due to this massive internal change, FreePBX 14 is now recommended to be installed on the Sangoma 7 distro.

Of course, manual and custom installations of all versions of FreePBX are still available, but the legacy Schmooze Distro (Cent 6.6) will not be able to upgrade to FreePBX 14 instantly, as it requires an Operating System Upgrade to Sangoma 7. More information about this will be coming in a few weeks.

Emphasizing Security

One of the first changes we made in FreePBX 14 was to let systems automatically update modules that have security vulnerabilities. This will ensure that when we release updates to modules that have security issues, your systems will be updated to prevent those security issues – in less than 24 hours! We’ve made this option opt-out, so you can disable it through Advanced Settings if you desire, but we recommend against it!

Upgrading with Ease

The days of running distro upgrade scripts or having to go deal with stuck upgrades are over. In FreePBX 14 all system upgrades are done right through the GUI, in the same place you’d normally go to update modules.

You can also schedule automatic module or system upgrades at specified dates and times.

Globalization & Localization Improvements

Sangoma Technologies is a global company with over 150 employees worldwide. We realized that United States of America date formats don’t work for many countries and locals. FreePBX now comes with the ability to define the time zone, language and date/time formatting system wide, per group and/or per user.

Each user can also individually define and change these settings from within UCP. FreePBX 14 now also supports a broader scope of UTF8 which means you can now save settings in FreePBX with emojis!


Introducing The Calendar Module

For a long time, we’ve heard different scenarios of complex time conditions logic to deal with holidays such as Easter (which falls on a different day every year).

To solve this in 14 we implemented a calendar module. This module allows you to add any web based iCal, CalDav, Google or Exchange Web Services calendar. You can also add local calendars through which you can add custom events. These calendars can then be linked to Time Conditions, Paging Pro groups, Find Me/Follow Me enabled/disable events and more!

To learn more about the new Calendar Module see: http://wiki.freepbx.org/display/FPG/Calendar+Module and http://wiki.freepbx.org/display/FPG/Calendar+Event+Groups+Module.

Remote calendars can be updated on a specific schedule you define. This allows you, the administrator, to delegate a calendar out to your users that they could update, adding events when the office is open which will then trigger Time Conditions at the appropriate times. We hope this new feature helps to ease configuration and management of your FreePBX systems.

A Redesigned UCP (User Control Panel)

Starting with the addition of the ARI back in the 2.x era, FreePBX has long had a need for a User Control Panel. A place where your end users can go to change specific settings related to their accounts or listen to voicemails or call recordings.

In FreePBX 12 we completely overhauled the UCP interface to give it important HTML5 updates. Including in-browser playback of recordings, notifications, a responsive interface, native chat and an in browser WebRTC phone. In FreePBX 14 we’ve gone one step further by giving your users complete control over how their Control Panel looks and feels.

With the additions of dashboards and widgets users can add, remove, resize and organize how they want their dashboard(s) in UCP to look and function. Users can have multiple dashboards that have different configurations of widgets. You could have one dashboard for your voicemail boxes and another dashboard that has widgets for your queues. For more information on the new UCP and what’s changed click here.

XMPP Improvements

Six months ago, we decided to open source our XMPP chat module but promised to continue improving the underlying source code.

Staying true to this promise we have completely reworked the internals of our XMPP module. Our new chat engine is more robust than ever and is fully supported by our flagship UC Zulu product line. Support for group chats, avatars, message history and more is already supplied in XMPP and best of all it’s free!

Zulu already supports these outstanding features and in the next few months the UCP chat interface will also support rooms, avatars and message history. We are very excited with how Zulu has progressed and how it’s also helped to expand the FreePBX Open Source Portfolio.

Moving Forward

In the next six months, we hope to release a Beta of FreePBX 15 with a redesigned backup module that will no longer be required to restore from the same version you are backing up to. This will also start our quicker release period where major FreePBX releases will happen every 6 months.

Get FreePBX 14 RC1 Today

Choose one of the following methods to install, provide feedback & report bugs:

Thank you for using FreePBX!