About the Asterisk development model

This post is my opinion regarding to

http://lists.digium.com/pipermail/asterisk-dev/2009-March/037262.html (English)

http://www.saghul.net/blog/2009/03/18/sobre-el-modelo-de-desarrollo-de-asterisk/ (Spanish)

For those not involved in the Asterisk users and/or developers community, it all comes down to users complaining about Asterisk reliability and the new (1.6) development model that will allow new features to be introduced in dot releases which (they say) will make it worst. Telephony systems are damn critical. Users are used to see their computer crash (yeah, even Linux users, not that often but it happens). But telephony lines are very reliable circuits (basically because they’re very simple in nature and have been around a long time). Asterisk started a revolution and I don’t think anyone can deny that, it has brought a lot of flexibility to telephony systems, but that revolution comes of course with a cost.

I started playing with Asterisk at the beginning of 2004, I’ve seen segfaults, deadlocks and all kind of funny behaviours here and there. Sometimes a brand new release of Asterisk has basic functionality broken (like originate calls from the manager). That’s true as well, it can be said that Asterisk, out of the box, is not reliable (scalability is another beast I don’t want to talk about now), and naturally users don’t like that.

Having said that, I need to clarify what I mean by “reliable”. In this context, by reliable I mean, if you take 1.4.N release, deploy applications on top of it and then you blindly upgrade from 1.4.N to 1.4.(N+1) WITHOUT TESTING and put it in production expecting it to just work, well, good luck with that, and enjoy your new job flipping burgers at McDonalds. That is, Asterisk is not reliable for users who are not willing to put some effort when upgrading. Asterisk is a complex beast (and built on top of somewhat still shaky core), the Asterisk developers had been doing a great job improving the core, however, nasty hacks like masquerade are still there.

I don’t have problems with Asterisk being criticized, that’s what it will make it better in the end. I do have a problem though with all that people that are nothing but leeches of the community. Here is the kind of user I have a problem with:

1. They typically just ask questions in the mailing list, never spend time helping other users.
2. They download for free Asterisk and expect it to work out-of-the-box for their particular (profit) purpose without spending time not even doing their homework, testing their particular scenarios etc.
3. They bitch about Digium not fixing bugs in the bug-tracker, bugs that according to them are so damn critical to their business that they not even put a bounty on the voip-info wiki or in the asterisk-biz mailing list for someone to fix it.
4. They do not download beta releases or release candidates, they just wait for the “stable” release and again, expect things to magically work for them to profit.

In short, they don’t want to spend a single cent, nor spend some time out of their busy life, all they expect is their life to be free of problems and cash big bucks. One common argument for these users is that they are not developers and cannot help, that’s just bs, there is other ways to help and in the end you can always spend some of your free-asterisk-based business revenue to place bounties for the development of test beds or whatever you feel is needed to improve Asterisk.

At the end, I agree Asterisk development has to improve. But Digium does not has unlimited resources, and is already paying for a big team of development creating Asterisk and you can download it for free. Being free is not an excuse for lacking quality, but just think, there is limited resources and Digium is allocating those resources where it makes sense for its business. Type “core show warranty” in your Asterisk CLI and tell me what your warranty is.

In the other hand, those leech-users should know that not only users, but also some developers are unhappy with the development model (but different arguments than leech-users had). That’s why CallWeaver was born, and not only that. The biggest example I like to use of one of the foundations of open source (if you don’t like it, then fix it) is the FreeSwitch project.

The FreeSwitch project was born out of the discontent (to put it nicely) of one of the top developers of Asterisk: Anthony Minessale II, he complains a lot about Asterisk, yeah, but he also did a lot more for Asterisk than anyone else I know of beyond Mark himself and just a couple of the top developers of Asterisk. So, yes, from my perspective in some way he has earned the right to talk shit about Asterisk, because he knows it, he has proposed solutions and he has actually brought solutions: FreeSwitch. FreeSwitch has brought some serious competition to Asterisk (sorry, but let’s be serious, CallWeaver and Yate had never been close to match Asterisk functionality and usage, let alone GNU Bayonne).

FreeSwitch, from my perspective has solved many of the core problems that Asterisk has, it also solves the licensing issues (it’s MPL) and it’s developer friendly (since there is no business driving force yet behind it and you can get an svn branch right away). Probably FreeSwitch is not a short-term solution for those who are already hooked into Asterisk business, but in any case, at this point I don’t think there is short-term solutions for the problems Asterisk users complain about, it’s gonna cost ya baby, one way or another, and from my perspective that is the way is supposed to be.

In the end, Olle Johansson did quite good being the first in reply to that post and resumed the situation, which is not simple, but one thing is for sure, the community has to stop bitching and start doing. Well, I really don’t care if you keep bitching as long as you fucking do something else to make the situation better.

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One Response to About the Asterisk development model

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