Digium Takes Asterisk Upstream Sans GPL 3

Internetnews.com discovers the vendor is crafting a new Asterisk appliance for hundreds of users but won't be shifting to GPL version 3.

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted Jun 27, 2007
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Internetnews.com has learned that Digium, the commercial vendor behind the open source Asterisk VoIP PBX effort, has a new but unannounced appliance in the works.

An internetnews.com reporter spied the appliance -- a 1U rack-mounted unit with the name AA250 -- in Digium's booth at the NXTcomm show in Chicago.

Asterisk founder Mark Spencer confirmed the new machine with internetnews.com in a recent phone call and said that Digium was at the show for "meetings."

Spencer declined to elaborate on who he was meeting with, but the new appliance will bring Asterisk firmly into the enterprise space. Asterisk's current machines, which run the group's Asterisk application, max out at 50 users and target the hobbyist or small-office VoIP PBX market.

"It's an upgrade of the smaller appliance to handle more users, targeting 250 to 500 users and it should be out in the next couple of quarters," Spencer said reluctantly, declining to elaborate.

The new appliance could well be the first official foray from Digium into the midsize enterprise and possibly carrier environments.

The new appliance is also being cooked at a time when Asterisk, which is licensed under the GPL version 2 , is grasping with the decision of whether or not it should migrate to the GPL version 3 slated for release this week.

Asterisk must consider the new license and whether or not it would help or hinder its march further into the enterprise and possibly even carrier markets.

"The patent stuff is the most confusing part of the license now and the part that gives me the most pause on the GPL v3 because it's not really very clear to me how this situation affects a company like Digium when you're sitting in a patent minefield," Spencer explained.

"In v3, it actually grants a patent license in the GPL so you're stuck with the license the GPL has selected for the patent. That may concern some people who are interested in contributing to Asterisk."

There are other patent concerns in GPL v3 for Asterisk. Spencer noted that in v3, open source providers are required to make sure that the patent license is available to the downstream recipient.

"What's not discussed is what if someone has a patent you know about but you don't think is valid," Spencer said. "You're in a no-mans land because you can't grant the license and you can't distribute it and pass the buck like you do under v2, where the end user is responsible for the patent license."

In a nutshell, there are some items that Spencer feels he needs to understand more about before he makes a decision on moving to v3 or not.

Apparently he's not getting any help from the Free Software Foundation either. Though Asterisk is a popular and well known application, neither the Free Software Foundation nor its advisors have approached Spencer, Digium or Asterisk to persuade them into moving to GPL v3.

"It's not immediately clear to me that there is going to be a valid benefit in moving to GPL v3," Spencer said. "To some degree I think that they are more explicit about what you have to do and maybe there are a few things in there that are stated a little bit better but fundamentally it's not that different.

"I think GPL v2 is a lot like IPv4," Spencer added. "It may not be perfect but it's really pretty darn good overall and it's well understood, so I'll probably keep it."

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