Is Asterisk for me? (initial evaluation)

Hi everybody,

I’m currently in the process of switching from Windows to Linux. As a big surprise, my (private) answering machine presents the biggest problem! There’s some pretty decent (Windows-) software that came with my ISDN card, but no Linux replacement. :frowning:

Now I DO realize that Asterisk is huge overkill for my requirements, but that wouldn’t really matter. Gives me something to play with in the long run :smile:
However, as you can imagine, I have quite a few other things to take care of and am a little worried about the setup time for a very basic solution…

Can anybody tell me IF I can do the following things with Asterisk and give me a very rough estimate of how long it would take me to install and configure it this way? It’s supposed to work in Ubuntu 7.04 (kernel 2.6.20). I am a Linux newbie, but otherwise “computer savvy” (software developer!).

  • external ISDN card (CAPI drivers available)
  • NO VoIP integration
  • voice calls and faxes are saved to a directory and forwarded by email
  • GUI (optional, but would be nice)
  • calls without caller id are immediately sent to voice box, calls with caller id are forwarded to a different number

pretty basic, right? (I hope)

I will ask for details after trying to make it work, but I would like to save myself hours of frustration if somebody can tell me that one of those parts is hard or impossible… (in which case: can you recommend any other software? …)

Thanks a lot,


Go for it, asterisk will do all that and more (but you knew that, didn’t you?)

well, thanks for this very detailed answer g

I definitely knew about the “much more” part and had definitely hoped for (and expected) the “all that” part :wink: However, I was not absolutely sure about faxing (it’s not mentioned much (if any?)…) and I’m not sure about ISDN card support - there are CAPI drivers, but I’m not sure if that is the same as an “isdn4linux” supported card?

Anyway, Asterisk sounds like a pretty large and complex piece of software and that’s why I asked about the initial setup … I know you cannot tell me, but would it most likely take me half an hour? One hour? Three hours? One day?!

Maybe I should also mention that I’m running 64-bit Linux. Will that be a problem?
I had some trouble yesterday installing the ISDN driver. I’m supposed to compile it, but there was a compile error. At that point, I’m at a complete loss because I don’t know much about C(++).

Asterisk 1.2.16 seems to be available in my distribution’s repositories and I guess that would be fine for starters, right? In that case, installation should be easy - how about configuration? Will I have to enter 25 parameters and have no clue what 23 of them mean?

I would just like to get a rough idea about that before I attempt the installation!


Asterisk will probably require a bigger commitment than you are ready to undertake. For one thing, you’d be best to use 1.4 because 1.2 doesn’t have much of a future. Oh, it’ll be around, but why invest in it, when 1.4 is now the main release or shortly will be. I don’t know the answer to the 64 bit question.

You would also do better to have a small PC with some mainstream linux distro stripped down to the minimal stuff you will want and that varies a lot, or even just a one of the voip routers that are now so commonly available.

In order not to configure 23 parameters (and it’s more like several .conf files with dozens of parameters) plus have a GUI, you’ll need to use one of the out of the the box solutions.

In short, the answer to your question is simple: what is your geek quotient and the time to screw around expressing your geekyness compared to the need for a configurable personal answering machine? You may be bale to rent one of these from your telco or buy one off the shelf.

Do you want/need to learn about this stuff? If the answer is not at all, I’d say forget asterisk.

Do you have time to mess with this? If no, forget it. This said, once it works the way you like, asterisk will run until the hardware dies.

I can tell you * on 64 bit server runs well, I setup an * for a call center, it’s running on a new 64 dual core Dell bit with Suse Enterprise 10; for isdn I would use an external isdn to sip gateway, this cost more than an internal pci card but the setup is less complex and more flexible, imho :smile:


Hi randulo,

thanks for the longer answer. Let’s start with the most important question first:

My “geek quotient” is rather high :smile: However, this is part of the current “problem”: My PC does quite a few things for me: handle phone calls, record TV shows, play videos and all my music, run a basic Apache webserver (almost no load at all)… I also have remote access via SSH / OpenVPN and VNC / RemoteDesktop set up and do some Java programming… So what’s the geek quotient? 80% maybe? :smile:
In my attempt to switch from Windows to Linux, the “personal answering machine” is just one of maybe five “larger projects” at hand and maybe around 15 things I “need to try”…

That’s why I split my question into “initial setup” versus “future configurability”. I’ll be happy to spend a couple of hours getting some “geeky” feature to run although I really don’t need it g.
However, I do NOT want to spend hours and hours trying to get the basic functionality working with loads of problems for which I have no clue how to solve them.
I am not afraid of config files, but “trial and error” is a doomed approach with them… (imho)

Why invest in it? Because I can install it in 2 minutes (select, apply) from Synaptic versus possibly hours for 1.4. For me, that’s a reason to try 1.2 first and I hope that the very simple things I’m trying to accomplish won’t be THAT different in 1.4?

[quote=“randulo”]You would also do better to have a small PC with some mainstream linux distro stripped down to the minimal stuff you will want and that varies a lot, or even just a one of the voip routers that are now so commonly available.

In order not to configure 23 parameters (and it’s more like several .conf files with dozens of parameters) plus have a GUI, you’ll need to use one of the out of the the box solutions.[/quote]

The “out of the box solution” said it will delete any operating system previously installed. Ouch.

One of the VoIP routers? I don’t really care about VoIP - largely because I have not yet seen (or heard…) a solution that come even close to the quality and reliability of my ISDN line. Also, I have a flatrate for national calls so “price” is not an argument either.

A dedicated PC? That’s completely out of question. Why? It costs money and makes noise! This is a private answering machine, I most definitely won’t have an extra PC running for that.
Hey, my “main PC” should definitely be up for the task (Dual core 2 GHz, 4, maybe 6 GB of RAM, some TB of hard disk space)…

Why a “stripped down” distro? Will Asterisk have lots of dependencies and conflicts and fail every other time I install a new piece of software? Now THAT would be a problem…

[quote=“randulo”]Do you want/need to learn about this stuff? [/quote]Yes.

[quote=“randulo”]Do you have time to mess with this?[/quote]Yes. In the long run. Not in the short run. I need a basic solution “soon”. I found some basic solutions on the web, but I really don’t want to use libraries that have not been updated in three years and might be incompatible with the next kernel update… I’d rather invest some time into a solution that “has a future” than save some time with something that’s dead next year…

Any hope for a simple “beginner’s installation”?

Good to hear about the 64 bit part. But no, I will not buy some dedicated hadware for that. This is just my personal answering machine with my private phone line and I already do have an ISDN adapter that even offers Linux CAPI drivers… (it’s not PCI, it’s an external thingy connected by USB) I hope I should be ok)…

Just a little update:
I have now downloaded the 1.4.4 source and compiled it (and libpri) without any problems. It said something like “platform set to x86_64” and “compile successful” and “install successful”.

Good start :smile:

I’ve also downloaded the book “Asterisk: The Future of Telephony”. Seems like my computer should be suitable for a “medium to large” system with “more than 15 channels”. “AMD is preferred for 64 bit systems, nForce is a good chipset”. ok, nice, got both of those :wink:

Now what?! The book discusses basic configuration, but talks about lots of hardware I’ve never even heard about. That’s what I was afraid of: What I’m trying to do is so basic that nobody else has tried or documented it…

But then, there’s posts like this:
that somehow make it sound quite complex…

well, ok. I guess the very first thing I need is a working ISDN CAPI driver… maybe I should get that first and then come back asking stupid questions about a basic installation :wink:

The question remains: Can an “Asterisk beginner” set up a basic personal voice mail system within a reasonable amount of time?

Moved my question to the top of the General Topics list.

ohhh boy, this is a rocky road! I’ve made some HUGE progress though and I think I’m passing the geek test :wink: (side note: How do you know somebody definitely is a geek? He’s trying to pass a geek test, not fail it g)


  1. First, I wanted to install my CAPI driver and it turns out that it is not compatible with current kernel versions > 2.6.18. That sucks. After (quite) some searching on the web, I found a way to patch it. Minor changes, really. Luckily… the patch was intended for a 32 bit driver for Suse Linux and I am using the 64 bit driver for Ubuntu… Well, the driver seems to work. Really. Great :smile:

  2. Then I found out I need to compile libpri before compiling Asterisk. Oh well… not a major problem. Just someone should’ve told me earlier…

  3. Next, I installed Asterisk_GUI. I think there was some compile or setup problem there as well, but I don’t remember. When I got the web interface running, it got stuck at step two where I had to configure extensions. Yes, maybe that is because I do not have extensions? I could not find a way around that and closed the “GUI”… Maybe I can use it again for configurations later, but it does not work for setup…

  4. FreePBX looked good as well, but it seems it only supports 1.2 at the moment…

4a) (I think it was at this point that I gave CapiSuite a spin… seemed to install fine, detects and picks up calls, but then fails with some Python error… great. As it doesn’t seem to offer some of the features I want and doesn’t seem to be actively developed any more, I stop that detour… not so much Asterisk’s fault, really g Just thought I’d mention this part of my journey)

  1. Next, some major reading on the web to find out I need something called chan_capi. Once again, the “latest stable” version does not compile… :frowning: Some more reading to find out it’s not compatible with Asterisk 1.4.4 sighagain (hey, randulo, we do have some reasons not to use the lastest version, don’t we…?), but it looks like it’s been updated since. I get the current HEAD sources from the repositories and they compile fine. Why can’t ANYTHING work the first time around?! (ok, just to be fair: Asterisk compiled without a hitch). Too bad - I really liked using a version marked as “stable” :wink: Now I’m on some nightly build… ugh

After all this, I could finally start Asterisk and it even recognized incoming calls :smile:
I have not yet managed to play a message or get a voicemail to work…

However, I think that’s a completely different topic which is a little bit beyond the scope of an “Is Asterisk for me - initial evaluation” g. So I’ve posted a new and more detailed question and would appreciate any additional help there…
I figure I’m either “almost there” or I have a hardware/driver problem that cannot be solved… Let’s hope for the best…