We’ve patiently waited until after April Fool’s Day to publish this column, but we’re having second thoughts. It may have been more fitting yesterday. One of the problems with laying track in front of a steaming locomotive is that someone still needs to watch where the train is headed. So it is with Asterisk®. And 1.6 has all the ingredients of a train wreck waiting to happen. To fully appreciate the reality of the situation, one need look no further than the business model of the Ciscos, Avayas, and the Nortels. Simply put, no customer cares what version of a phone system they are buying. Or, to dumb it down to a Clintonism: "It’s the Feature Set, Stupid!" When the features stop working, the customers start walking. It’s as simple as that.
When we began the PBX in a Flash project last November, our emphasis was radically different than some of the other Asterisk aggregations. First and foremost, we wanted a product that was stable. Of equal importance was our own Big Easy: easy to use, easy to enhance, and easy to upgrade. We didn’t want users or VARs having to reinvent the wheel each time a security patch or new enhancement was released. 40,000 downloads in just over four months tells me we got it just about right. To look at it from the customer side, no business (that wants to stay in business) will tolerate a phone system that is routinely out of service for upgrades much less one that takes away features that the business depends upon. Whether it’s Caller ID, or Text-to-Speech, or Screen Pops, or Conferencing, or Phone Blasting, or even a Call Center really doesn’t matter. It does no good to tell a customer that they lost critical functionality but now they have the latest version of X. You can add your own customer expletive here if you’ve ever tried this approach in the real world.
Which brings us back to Asterisk 1.6. In the good old days when there wasn’t much of a feature set and when no business would stake their livelihood on Asterisk, it really didn’t much matter when a new version of Asterisk was released. To put it charitably, things could only get better. Well, things have changed. Businesses now rely upon Asterisk. So the dynamics are quite different. It’s no longer acceptable to trash big chunks of code without making certain that you didn’t break something that was already working. It’s no longer acceptable to invent new verbs in the programming language while deleting commands that used to work. We defy you to find a link to any document that explains the transition from Asterisk 1.2 verbs to Asterisk 1.4 produced by the developers of the product. Asterisk 1.6 continues the programming carnage while adding some bells and whistles of its own: for example, an entirely new and different Asterisk Manager. And the scorecard: Screen Pops, Dead. Phone Blasting, Dead. Flite Text-to-Speech, Dead. Cepstral, Dead. Speech-to-Text, Dead. To show you the mentality of the programmers that think all of this is a good idea, here’s the response to our complaint that Asterisk 1.6 broke virtually all existing text-to-speech applications… again!
Summary: 0012348: Neither Flite nor Cepstral TTS works with Asterisk 1.6
Description: Lack of native support for either Flite or Cepstral TTS breaks thousands of existing text-to-speech Asterisk applications.
Response: This is clearly code that is not in Asterisk. Many of us cannot even look at the code, unless it has been disclaimed. If the original developers are not willing/able to update their code, then you are going to either have to find somebody who will do it for free, or offer a bounty for somebody to do it. This is most certainly not the place to be requesting this. In the future, before posting any bug reports, please read the bug guidelines as linked on the main page of bugs.digium.com.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. That’s the type of attitude that will sound the death knell for Asterisk. Here’s the tattoo that should be stamped on every programmer’s
foreskin forehead: You Break It, You Fix It. I Break It, I Fix It. Hopefully Mark & Co. will come to their senses before it’s too late.
Click here for Chapter 2.
Footnote: Since releasing this article earlier today, we’ve gotten a response from Cepstral Support. They also had contacted Digium® for help with this. If you loved the original Digium response to the bug report, you’ll really enjoy this one:
"Thank you for your interest in Cepstral Voices. In my discussions with Digium they made three comments:
1) That releasing an "ISO" of Asterisk may break the GPL2 (they were more certain than "may"). I would check with Digium on this. (WM: We already have sent the correspondence and can’t wait to hear more!)
2) Asterisk V. 1.6 is in Beta and that they take the typical corporate stand on Beta. They know of incompatibilities, but since it is in Beta – they are working through these.
3) Cepstral and Digium both recommend that you contact the people that wrote the app_swift layer. In the future there may be some app_swift / app_cepstral / res_cepstral that is "official" – but right now it is a bit pot-luck in support."
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