Balancing the Multiple Faces of Open Source

Why do we spend so much of our personal time keeping FreePBX vibrant and thriving? Why do you choose to spend time helping this project, or using FreePBX vs. the many other choices out there? What about the name FreePBX? Some of you love the name and some of you find it a hindrance to your business efforts.

Running a project as big and widespread as FreePBX involves a balancing act we must constantly adjust in an effort to bring value to all of the different camps of users while continuing to provide the fun, motivation and justification for us to drive the project forward keeping it the leader of the Open Source PBX world and the dominant platform in adoption and influence of Asterisk.

Keeping the project fun is at the top of our list. Without fun there is no motivation, there are few contributors and the project would stagnate. The very name of the project, FreePBX, is a motivation to many as to the fun factor of working with us. What's in the name? Too often ‘Free’ is associated with no cost when anyone who has worked with it knows that there is always a cost, whether monetarily in seeking help or your own time in learning and getting the project to work for your needs. To us, ‘Free’ is about the Freedom to Choose™ meaning breaking free of the constraints and limitations of the proprietary phone system word. Since fun is always an important factor, our latest T-Shirt, distributed to all the recent attendees of our last OTTS FreePBX Training class demonstrates one version of our fun:

Defending You From Propietary Phone Systems Everywhere, Join The FreePBX Revolution

Defending You From Proprietary Phone Systems Everywhere, Join The FreePBX Revolution

This meaning of ‘Free’ probably resonates with many more of you but I'm sure there are those who still feel the name is a hindrance in their sales efforts. This highlights the balancing act we are faced with. Where this group may have trouble with the name, another camp of users may be in love with the name and what it stands for but has trouble with the commercial module side of FreePBX fearing it somehow detracts from the spirit or purity of the project while the first camp may find these offerings of significant value in their sales efforts against competitive market forces.

Our goal is to find a way to balance all of these efforts. Fun is important; empowering the different channels and user camps of FreePBX is important; our ability to make a viable living to keep all of us employed full time in keeping this project at the forefront of telephony is important. All of these contribute to keeping your confidence in the stability and long-term viability of FreePBX so you can feel confident that you (and your customers where applicable) will be taken care of. As such, we drive efforts on all fronts to try and accommodate all of the different camps out there!

Tony and I were in Huntsville, AL two weeks ago conducting an OTTS FreePBX training and Reseller Certification Testing while also interfacing with the core Asterisk development team around FreePBX 2.12 / Asterisk 12 plans. OTTS and the Reseller program are efforts that deliver valuable education and services to a camp of you while providing one source of income for the project. While we were there, we got a “call for help" from another camp, Kyle, the highly motivated ‘hobbyist’ … dedicated long time telephone historian buff and motivated local student who was trying to get FreePBX to work with a DAHDi card provided by Mark Spencer (his mentor) and some VERY OLD (read antique) phones that Kyle collects. Mark received the call for help while we were having dinner together and told Kyle he'd stop by later with “a couple of friend's” who were in town visiting. In comes the fun part, when Kyle opened the door and was introduced to “meet Philippe and Tony, they run FreePBX” … watching his jaw drop, speechless...  

Front left to right: Marc Spencer (founder of Asterisk), Tony Lewis (FreePBX Distro Lead), Philippe Lindheimer (FreePBX Lead) and in the back: Kyle.

Front left to right: Marc Spencer (founder of Asterisk), Tony Lewis (FreePBX Distro Lead), Philippe Lindheimer (FreePBX Lead) and in the back: Kyle.

This experience exemplifies the importance of balance. I won't ever forget the feeling of reward watching Kyle's expression when he was introduced to us. Even more exciting was seeing him receive his first phone call on one of his vintage phones, after we saved him hours of work by downloading the recently revived DAHDi Configuration module and instantly bringing his system to life!

This experience would not have been possible had we not been in Huntsville, teaching OTTS to some of the other camps while brining income into the project to help it thrive. Over the years we've provided free or very low cost scholarships for OTTS to many participants who had themselves contributed countless time and energy into the project but didn't have the means or justification to pay for its expense.

What about those of you who find the name FreePBX a hindrance to your sales effort? Over the last 2+ years, since version 2.10, we have redesigned the inner workings of FreePBX to allow for significant branding capabilities. At a basic level it is relatively easy to change major logos and links in Advanced Settings to your own. It is also possible, with the addition of a custom skinning module, to significantly redesign the look and feel of the FreePBX GUI and completely remove the name ‘FreePBX’ from the GUI pages. This can be done if you have reasonably experienced talent, or we offer an OEM program to do this for you inclusive of a custom online module repository to both keep your skinning module up-to-date and limit the available online modules to those that you want to be viewed by your customers. For those of you who want to have our Copyright removed, we even have a rider to the OEM program to have this done as well. (Important reminder, GPL allows you to take our code and change it, removing FreePBX as you desire and with its removal, removing the requirement to include trademark notices. However, it does NOT allow for the removal of Copyright Notices. As long as you are using any of the Copyright protected portions of FreePBX, which is most of FreePBX, you must include the Copyright unless you work through our program thus getting permission to remove it from the Copyright holders.)

So ... whether you are an enthusiast, a reseller/integrator, a do-it-yourself business owner, an OEM or another camp within the hundreds of thousands of FreePBX users out there, we want you to understand that all of you are important to us and we are in a constant balancing act to try to keep FreePBX fun, interesting, innovative, stable, attractive and sellable in ways that meet everyone’s needs. We always love to hear what you like and are always open to your feedback in all its forms, and more often then not, we may have already provided solutions to some of the challenges or requests that you are looking for!

Philippe - On Behalf of the FreePBX and Schmooze Teams!