Saturday, July 14, 2007

AstLinux and trixbox

I'm convinced that people like to compare things. It doesn't matter if it's an apples to apples comparison, it doesn't matter if it's an apples to Ritz cracker comparison. Someone, somewhere will compare it if they provide even a vaguely similar function. I mean hey, if you're hungry it could come down to choosing between apples and Ritz crackers, right? They are both food, aren't they?

Yesterday someone e-mailed me and started comparing AstLinux and trixbox. This has happened before, many, many times. The difference now? I have a blog! This is where I get to finally rant about all of this.

AstLinux and trixbox are both Linux distributions. This is true. They both run Asterisk. This is true. After establishing these two facts I start to have problems finding what else they have in common.

I'm going to start this off with a disclaimer: I have nothing against trixbox. trixbox is very popular and certainly fills a need. You can't argue with that. I myself have never really used it with users, etc. but I have downloaded the ISOs and VMWare images just to check it out. I also downloaded the "source" once.

trixbox is designed to be a turn-key "do anything and everything have anything to do with Asterisk or a related application". Trixbox is based off of CentOS (a good choice based on what they are trying to do) and includes some other open source software to accomplish their goals, all integrated together.

The person that e-mailed me yesterday also asked why AstLinux was so small. After all, it is pretty much impossible to find a Compact Flash card smaller than 512MB these days. What's with this 50MB business? Why should I care to keep it small?

He then mentioned that his trixbox install was "only" 1.8GB. I had to reread it to make sure he wasn't talking about something else. Only 1.8GB? Sure enough, I look at my Trixbox 2.2 VMWare image and it comes in at about 1.3GB. I guess I never noticed. That's huge.

I very quickly realized that meant that trixbox's install size was 26 times as large as AstLinux. In my VMWare session, it also uses over 200MB of RAM (doing nothing). AstLinux comes in at about 20MB of RAM (doing nothing). That's a smaller but still significant factor of 10.

Ok, now I've done it. I am bashing trixbox. You knew it was coming, you just wanted to see how long it was going to take. You've caught me.

Maybe not. If you need something to do whatever it is trixbox does, 1.8 (or 1.3) GB isn't really that bad. It just further demonstrates, for me, how different trixbox and AstLinux are:

- different users
- different environments
- different hardware
- different goals

It was at this moment a car analogy popped into my head. What is it with people and making computer/car analogies? We've all heard about the Bill Gates car analogy (I think it might be an urban legend, though). For some reason it is perceived that people fundamentally understand cars better than they do computers and when you need to demonstrate some relationship, you can compare a computer to a car. Here's what I came up with.

Ferrari makes some of the best performance cars in the world. These things are hand built with custom selected and designed components. They offer some of the most amazing performance on the road. 0-60 in under four seconds in almost all cases. With the Enzo you can almost break 3 (0-60, 3.14 seconds). That's awesome, unless...

- You have a family of four and a two seat Italian rocket doesn't get them to school
- You can't drive stick/paddle shifters (I can't - it's a hassle)
- You can't handle 500+ horsepower (I can't)
- You don't have a Ferrari dealer near you (where will it get fixed?)

Obviously there is the other issue of cost. All of this speed, performance, and prestige will cost you at least $300,000. But because this analogy talks about software that is free (I am talking about money), we'll leave that part out (for now).

Toyota makes some great cars, trucks, and vans. They consistently outsell many other major brands. If you:

- Have a family of four (and friends)
- Can't/don't want to drive stick (it is a hassle)
- Would like a calm, quiet, smooth ride
- Have a Toyota dealer around the corner

If this is you, you probably want a Toyota Sienna. That's a minivan. It has a variety of options for entertainment (TVs, DVD players, rear seat controls). More cup holders than you can imagine, cargo space, folding seats, etc, etc. All of these features are included. Sure you might not use the DVD player everyday (some people might never use it at all) but it would really help to shut those kids up on a long car trip. C'mon, you know it does!

Back to cost. Ferrari: $300,000. Toyota: $30,000 (that's a guess). Cost, in most cases is a barrier to entry. Billionaires think nothing of it to buy a Ferrari. Why not? They've got the money!

A similar barrier to entry exists in (some) free software. My non-super-technical friends always wonder what I am doing on the computer. It took me a while to figure it out but then one day my friend Kyle just asked me "How do you use a computer without a mouse?". Then the light went on. I've been using free software, Linux, etc for so long that I think nothing of it to sit down and spend hours tinkering with config files, source code, etc. All while never touching the mouse. Now I get it.

I (along with a few other select people) think nothing of it to get an AstLinux system, open up rc.conf, tweak the network interfaces and go to town on Asterisk config files.

My friends would have nothing of it. Give them trixbox and a mouse and they will get it done their way. There is nothing wrong with that.

The end result? We both get a phone system. Mine looks more like a Ferrari (hand tuned, hand written config files, base core, etc). Their's looks more like the Sienna minivan.

In this complicated web of comparisons the difference is I am the billionaire. Only my billions are not dollars, they are hours (ok, maybe minutes or even seconds) of experience and work with software, computers, networks, etc. Billionaires (my kind or the real kind) are not everywhere. Neither are people that can make an AstLinux system work. Knowledge and experience are the barrier to entry here. Not money.

My install is faster. More efficient. Uses much less power. The hardware is cheaper. You also need to keep me around so I can make changes to it (maintenance - I am the Ferrari dealer) when it needs it.

The trixbox install gets the same basic job (phone calls) done. It can also do CRM and all of that fancy jazz if someone ever wants it. That's awesome! My super-non-technical friends provided a great service to someone and made their life/business/etc better. Bravo!

AstLinux and trixbox:
- different users
- different environments
- different hardware
- different goals


ravenII said...

Good work Kristian! I wrote about it here;

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing that your haranging mostly comes from "Linux experts" and $25 consultants?

Those of us who get it, get it. We don't need to have it explained to us or even ask quite so dumb questions.

I don't think you have anything to worry about here. You have a well respected "distro" that fits a very large (IMO) market.

Good luck with the blog!