9 Feb

Asterisk In Action: Web Conferencing

About three weeks ago my company (Digium) launched AsteriskExchange, a marketplace of sorts for Asterisk add-ons and Asterisk-based solutions. The idea is to give users a single site that catalogs all the amazing products and projects that connect with Asterisk. Open source and free (as in no-strings-attached) products qualify for free listings, while commercial offerings pay a listing fee that helps cover the cost of maintaining and marketing AsteriskExchange.

One of the first open source projects to get listed is an absolutely fantastic collaboration and conferencing system called BigBlueButton. BigBlueButton (BBB) is similar in function to WebEx or GoToMeeting, but adds some really cool features including multi-presenter video, low-bandwidth document sharing and an open API for integration with other systems. The audio conferencing component of BBB is provided by Asterisk, which is one of fourteen open source “engine-level” components that power the system.

The BigBlueButton client is a browser-based Flash app, so there’s no software package to install or update. Unlike most other collaboration tools on the market, BBB works with Windows, Mac and Linux. The system was built for the distance learning market but works perfectly well as a collaboration or marketing tool for business. The package is licensed under a combination of the LGPL and the AGPL. The sponsoring company, Blindside Networks, offers installation, support, ongoing updates and customizations. They also sell commercial licenses the desktop sharing module.

I’ve been looking for an open source collaboration suite for some time, so it’s great to discover. It’s even better that they use Asterisk. Complex, powerful projects like this prove the value of the open source development model. There is no need to re-invent the wheel or own every component that makes up a solution. Perhaps its a cliche, but in open source development, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.