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VOIP, which stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol, dates back to 1995 when VocalTec released the first commercial Internet phone software. Before then there was only talk of attempting to accomplish Voice over the Internet. VOIP uses several protocols to make Voice over Internet work. In this article we will not go to deeply into how VIOP works, but we will take a look at several server options you have when setting up a VOIP server. There are also some services available online, which means almost no setup required - just open an account and start calling. But we will save those for another article.
To setup a server yourself, you need a Public Branch Exchange (PBX); the most popular option is Asterisk. All of the projects we will look at are Asterisk-based. Asterisk was created by Mark Spencer of Digium in 1999. Before Asterisk, there where other options but those where very hard to setup.
In this article, I will introduce a few full-featured Linux hosted technology VOIP options. This list might not contain your favorite or your favorite might not be listed first (the list is in no particular order). This is not an indication that I don't like that system. I choose to talk about the most popular options who often have the biggest communities, with helpful people who can help out the readers of this article if they hit a glitch with the setup that they are attempting.
As of writing this article, the Callweaver website wasn't online. I had planned to cover Callweaver as well, especially as Callweaver was one of the only PBXes to not use Asterisk. But as the website seems down for now, I will not include it. If the website comes online again, I might choose to include Callweaver at a later time.
Please note that using any of these Linux VOIP options will erase the hard drive of the computer you are installing them on. You have been warned.
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trixbox Previously Known As Asterisk@Home
Digium requested that trixbox changed the name Asterisk@Home in 2006 to trixbox(all lower case see this link). By that time, trixbox was much more than just Asterisk anyway, so Fonality had no problem renaming the project.
There are three version of trixbox to choose from:
trixbox CE is the community edition and is therefore supported by the comunitty through mostly the forum. However, if you choose to do so, you could also call the help line and get support from Fonality support engineers directly. This does come with a price tag.
trixbox Pro comes with hardened PBxtra technology (which is proprietary), and this is the main feature you pay for with trixbox pro. You also get support, maintenance, and training, as well as some premium features.
trixbox Appliance is dedicated PBX Linux VOIP server hardware. The Appliance is sold with CE or Pro installed. This is the easiest option for any small/medium business. All you have to do is deploy the server when it comes in, setup your VOIP or analog phones, and you are all set to start making calls.
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Elastix is a UCS (Unified Communications Server) which combines IP PBX, email, IM, faxing, and collaboration. A true all-in-one solution. Elastix uses a combination of CentOS, Asterisk, FreePBX, postfix, Hylafax, and Openfire to work.
Elastix has a great helpful community; see the forum. Elastix also offers paid support. They don't have a branded appliance, however they do offer a list of certified hardware. As of writing this article however, there were no entries in the list yet.
When doing a quick search, I did find the Palosanto Online store (Palosanto is the developer of Elastix). The store sells appliances for small, medium, and big businesses, which all come with a technical support contract. Even though an appliance would not be viable for the home user, the cheapest starts at $750 dollars. It is great for businesses who don't want to make supporting a Linux VOIP server a job of their own IT technician.
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PBXInAFlash "The Lean Mean Asterisk Machine"
My personal favorite(maybe because I haven't found a reason to change yet) is PBXInAFlash(PIAF). I have a PIAF server running myself. It has been up for little under a year now and is a breeze to setup and use. PIAF is great because you can set it up to use Google Voice for incoming and outgoing calls. This means you can call any number in the US or Canada for free. To acomplish this, you have to read the Incredable PBX post.
Total setup for PIAF is a little under an hour. You spend more time signing up for accounts and drinking coffee during the setup than anything. PIAF is the easiest setup I have found.
If you can think of it, you can probably do it with PIAF. PIAF is a PBX that a beginner can setup or an advanced user can setup and configure. It's used in a home setting with only 5 or less phones(extensions) or in a small to medium business with many extensions. The latter usually takes more bandwidth and better hardware.
Most PIAF starters start out on the blog of Ward Mundy; he is one of the PIAF developers. He has a lot of how-to's and other articles that talk you through setting up your PBX step-by-step. A lot of information can be found in the docs as well. The PIAF forum is another good community to join. Most of the "how do I do this" questions can be answered by searching the forum or asking a question on the forum.
I hope this answers most of the questions of where to find a PBX. If you have any more questions, please leave a comment below.