More than just a glyph is Asterisk, the complete (and first) PBX software package, interoperating with almost all standards-based telephony equipment. Needing no additional hardware for VoIP calling, the software works similar to any PBX, allowing attached phones to connect to one another and also contact phones on PSTN and VoIP networks. Asterisk is a huge player in the open source framework for building communications via IP PBX systems, VoIP gateways, and conference servers. Small businesses, large business, and governments worldwide use the software, which allows for the ability to create and deploy a wide range of telephony applications and services without facing the high price tag that comes with full overhaul of equipment to make room for new technology.

Named after the typographical symbol, Asterisk was created in 1999, behind the innovative code developed by Mark Spencer of Digium. It is currently one of the world’s most popular open source telephony projects, with software that keeps companies and organizations like Yahoo, Google, the U.S. Army, and eBay running at the demanding level they clearly require. Asterisk also offers and extensive line of hardware solutions to use with their software, including its own brand of Digium SIP phones, IP media gateways [converters of calls between legacy circuit-switched technology and modern packages (aka VoIP)], and a variety of interface cards, which also serve to bridge the gap between older equipment and modern technology.

Asterisk also works by turning an ordinary computer into a “feature-rich voice communications server”, and more specifically, enabling customers to implement turnkey VoIP systems or design their own custom communication solutions. The main appeal of Asterisk has been its offerings to open source alternative businesses for as much as 80 percent less than the competition. Additionally, the platform supports the marriage of traditional and VoIP telephony by allowing deployers to build custom telephone systems, or gradually migrate their existing systems into new technology. This in turn, helps businesses save even more money without overwhelming them with the task of doing away with old systems all at once.

Originally designed for use with Linux, Asterisk now runs on a wide range of operating systems including OpenBSD, NetBSD, FreeBSD, Mac OS X, Solaris, and Windows (AsterwiskWin32). The software has become increasingly popular worldwide as it’s freely available under open source licensing, boasting a modular, extensible design. The software includes many of the features enjoyed under proprietary PBX systems such as conference calling, voice mail, attendant, and call hunting. Since the initial release of Asterisk, it has been tested and refined by a community of more than 70,000 developers and integrators in 170 countries around the world. The PBX software can be likened to a dough that is constantly being kneaded, cultivated, and upgraded perpetually by a large, devoted community.