Anyone who looks to install an Asterisk based PBX will at some stage probably ask themselves as to what package they should go with as it just doesn’t make sense to install everything manually unless you’re super-hardcore. Some research reveals there are qute a few options being: AsteriskNOW, Trixbox, Elastix, PBX In A Flash (PIAF) and a few other small less popular releases. Now deciding between which one to install is not that easy and requires a bit of research, unless of course you have come across this blog post because I’ve done the research and now sharing it with you. One of the problems with doing the research is that much of the information out there is quite outdated and can give you the wrong impression of what you should go for. I’ll go through each of the distributions and then give a conclusion.
AsteriskNOW 1.7.1 (at the time of writing)
AsteriskNOW is distrubution created and supported by Digium, the company behind Asterisk. Although some older versions were not based on CentOS, version 1.7.1 is based on CentOS 5 so you get all the benefits of CentOS, being one of the widest used linux distributions that just works with plenty of info around if you need to do something with it. One the one ISO disk that you download you have the option of what to install. You can install v1.4 or v 1.6 of Asterisk and you can choose to either install the barebones installation OR the installation with a front-end management interface being either FreePBX or AsteriskGUI. Personally, because I prefer to modify the config files directly without a GUI and because my configuration is more complex than either FreePBX or AsteriskGUI can support I chose to install the basic version of 1.6 wihout either FreePBX or AsteriskGUI. This is not something I could coose to do with either Trixbox or the others (not sure abotu PIAF). The installation only took like 5-10 minutes and was as smooth as you could dream of. So if you don’t or need a GUI then AsteriskNOW would certainly be the package you choose. Also, if you do want a GUI but don’t want to install all kinds of extra stuff or if you want to have a GUI but still make quite a few changes to the files directly then the installation option with AsteriskGUI could be the way to go for you. This is what I did initially before I got so comfortable with the asterisk config files that I found the GUI to be more annoying and constraining than anything else. The one downside I found to AsteriskNOW is that there is very little in terms of documentation, but then again you don’t really need any as such. Also another thing to note which I personally think is an advantage is that you only get the OS, Asterisk and the GUI when you install AsteriskNOW. There is no other rubbish like vTiger or some other CRM and other crap. A PBX is a critical part of any business infrastructure and personally I don’ t feel you should have all other kinds of rubbish installed on your PBX that is not directly to do with the PBX itself. Chance are your business already has a CRM system so you don’t need to install and run one on the PBX itself. And even if you do need a CRM system or some other stuff you should install it on an Application Server, not on your PBX. If you don’t run all kinds of rubbish on your PBX you can get away with a pretty light spec in terms of hardware and let the PBX do it’s job of being a PBX and not an application server. If you do want to install other rubbish on your PBX despite best practices then you can but at least you’re not forced to!
With Trixbox the only option you get is a pre-packaged solution with FreePBX and all kinds of other rubbish pre-installed. The operating system is also CentOS. The setup is nice and simple as well, but perhaps is not as nice as with AsteriskNOW. If you know you’re going to be running your PBX with FreePBX (which uses an intermediary mysql database to store the config before writing it out to the config files, unlike AsteriskGUI which just reads in and modifies the config files) then Trixbox is an option for you. I personally found that Trixbox had nothing to offer me over and above AsteriskNOW perhaps with the exception of better documentation and a larger community, but the reality is that most of that is FreePBX anyway. Another drawback of Trixbox is the fact that you don’t have Digium behind it so when new versions of Asterisk come out they don’t get bundled anywhere near as quickly with Trixbox as they do with AsteriskNOW. Trixbox made sense when AsteriskNOW didn’t exist or was in it’s infancy, but these days it doesn’t have all the benefits they it once did.
Elastix is a similar beast to Trixbox. It comes with lots and lots of rubbish pre-installed and is more of a do-everything distribution of an application server of which the PBX is only one part
PBX In a Flash (PIAF)
I can’t say I’ve looked much into PIAF but I really don’t see the reason for going with it when you have Asterisk NOW and Trixbox as available options. PIAF doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as popular as the other 3 either.
Hope all of this helps you choose the right Asterisk distribution for you.