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Interview with Mark Spencer

Author: Matt Riddell
Daily Asterisk News
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Question 1: When did you start development of Asterisk?

Early in 1999, just after the Linux Expo. At the time, Digium was still "Linux Support Services, LLC" which was me and a group of contractors. I had done a development job for Adtran (who shared the booth with me at the show) in which we used a Linux box with a frame relay card to act as a frame relay to ethernet bridge for this DSL mux called a "frameport". Keith Morgan, who was representing Adtran at the event had brought some Atlas boxes to show off some of their telephony stuff and I thought "Hey, what happens if Keith sends me a voice over frame relay call?" so we tried that and I got some little blip of data. I theorized that if I could get a call into the PC I could do anything with it, and thus was Asterisk born. I needed a phone system anyway and with as small a startup budget as I had for LSS, I wasn't about to buy one, so building one seemed a logical way to go. (see attached picture, i'm the one with his back to the camera in a red shirt)

Question 2: What is the plan for 1.1 and 2.0?

As an open source project, my own vision is always combined with the vision of the other contributing developers. Because Asterisk does most of what people need, people are enabled (dare I say "empowered") to make it fit their needs exactly. Thus the direction that Asterisk goes is often influenced by the patches that I receive through the bug tracker. I have my own list of things but I don't know which ones will end up in what version, just depends on what I have time to finish.

Question 3: What do you see as the biggest areas of growth in the Asterisk codebase?

We are seeing a lot of core improvement in extension handling as well as new applications and lots of RFC improvements in the SIP side. Caller*ID went through some big changes and there may be some other things in the pipeline like "shims". THe new "realtime" engine is enabling database backending to be relatively seamlessly embedded into SIP, IAX, Voicemail and Extensions with more to come. One thing that is also interesting is that we're seeing the first Asterisk games like "Metaboo" that drumkilla and twisted developed. This helps illustrate my observation that "It's hard to get most people excited about telephones, but those who do get excited get *really* excited."

Perhaps what is most refreshing though is the sheer number of developers that we see contributing to Asterisk, especially this year. We have dozens of new contributers who have made small improvements and several new developers making significant and repeated contributions.

Question 4: What market sector do you foresee the largest uptake of Asterisk taking place in the near future?

It's hard to pick just one place. Asterisk solves so many little problems for so many people that it seems to end up playing a small role in just a huge number of places as well as some places where Asterisk is really the centerpiece of an organization's telephony system. In terms of size, we still see installations as small as a 1 FXO + 1 FXS up to the tens of thousands of customers connected to an ITSP in a cluster. Even some companies who have products that Asterisk could be viewed as competitive with, often are using Asterisk to make their own architectures easier. For example a softswitch company may use Asterisk as a voicemail system to make their entire cost come down even though Asterisk can itself be used as a soft switch.

Question 5: How did you find Astricon?

It was absolutely spectacular. When Steven first called us and told us they were going to have a conference about Asterisk and they thought they'd get 100 people to come, I was certainly supportive but I also doubted they would be able to get tha many attendees. After all, most conferences are about an entire technolgoy (e.g. VON or Internet Telephony Expo). It was hard to think of a show which was focused on a single application (as opposed to a technology, operating system or programming language). Of course when it finally finished there were over 450 attendees from over 30 countries -- an amazing turn out for a first time show. Of course it was a fascinating experience for myself and all of Digium to see how many people really are using the technolgoy that we've developed.

Question 6: How do you see Astricon progressing in the future?

Astricon was not a marketing show, it was a real, technical show with real, technical talks. For that reason, I think it will become a very rapidly growing show. I give Olle and Steven great marks for having the vision to make this a reality and for their good organization. People that went to the show were very pleased with the response and will almost certainly come back.

Question 7: What hours do you keep?

I usually work at the office 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. CST However, I rarely get to spend much time doing technical things while I'm at work. I mostly do that in the evening. The bug tracker is the focus of my evening, typically, trying to review patches and get them in. Even with all the assistance I receive from bkw and the other bug marshals, it's hard to conceive of how much time it really takes to keep a handle on it, and the bug tracker leaves no vacation in that if it's not serviced daily, it quickly can grow out of hand.

Question 8: Favourite Drink?

I like lots of drinks, with or without alcohol or caffeine.

Question 9: Favourite Food?

I like basically everything but fish.

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