What is an open source phone system?

By Stan Baldwin
Updated: January 26, 2011

The concept of open source software has been with us for decades. In the personal computer operating system world Linux, an implementation of the Unix operating system, has steadily gained advocates against the offerings from Redmond and Cupertino.


An open source telephone system is built on generic computer hardware, avoiding both the significant costs of specialized equipment as well as the unique capabilities that equipment affords. The open source software offers a programming interface and encourages users to create the features and tools they need. The results are frequently shared with other users.

An open source reseller will typically offer a “standard” implementation which includes all the features most small businesses should need. The appropriate selections from the vast array of user contributions addressing equipment interfaces, protocol drivers, routing, media management and so on, can be tested and included in the supported open source based implementation. The reseller's experienced staff is also available to add whatever unique features a particular business customer may want and can afford.


The advantages of open source begin with the lack of a licensing fee and extend through the diverse catalog of contributions made by the community of users, to the flexibility of implementation which permits the code modifications required to meet the needs of each organization.


The disadvantages of open source software mirror the advantages. No license costs means the expenses of maintaining the software must be borne internally. The ability to write your own code requires you also test and support that code. The stability of code contributed by other users cannot be assumed. Many of the economies of scale afforded the commercial providers of software are not available to companies choosing to “roll their own” by building on an open source foundation.

A middle ground between one-size-fits-all off-the-shelf commercial programs and the challenging world of open source DIY is available. Many organizations do build their own Linux based systems, but businesses tend to look to an intermediary which can provide a stable implementation, technical support and help with customization when needed. The “resellers” of open source operating systems provide the model for a number of companies now offering “supported” implementations of open source VoIP software.

While a cost savings with open source VoIP is probable, the long term attractions are more likely to be the greater degree of control over this key business tool and the ability to add, remove or modify the functionality to closely match the needs of your business.

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