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Linux Business GNU is Not Unix Software

Design a Virtual Office with Open Source? 263

Posted by Cliff
from the how-would-you-do-it dept.
apropos asks: "An interesting question came up recently when discussing (yet again) starting an open-source based consulting company: 'How would you design the ultimate virtual office with open source software?' With things like fax, VoIP, web, email, security and office suites all available as open source products, what kind of useful things could be done? One idea that came to mind was emailing answering machine recordings. What would you put into your ultimate virtual office solution?"
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Design a Virtual Office with Open Source?

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  • What about Asterisk (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 12, 2004 @07:32PM (#8548823)
    You can use Asterisk for your PBX [asterisk.org].
  • by Zenmonkeycat (749580) on Friday March 12, 2004 @07:56PM (#8548990)
    Unfortunately, my virtual office would have to be a recording studio. And I still haven't found anything like Cubase (with VST effect and instrument support, the ability to interface with just about all my instruments, and a nice notation setup) for Linux. Sure, there are all sorts of programs that do /some/ of what Cubase does, but nothing truly integrated to the level I need.

    Besides, I /still/ haven't gotten my sound card to work right under Fedora, and it's a bog-standard Audigy!

    Now if my virtual office were a musicological research library with full support for searching through massive databases of scores, /then/ I'd be looking at Linux.
  • by 4pksings (255835) on Friday March 12, 2004 @08:06PM (#8549040)
    VOCP does this. Multiple mailboxes, faxes, faxback,
    downloads messages via the web so that they can be played anywhere. Uses perl and python.

    Works very well, I have used it for over 3 years.

    And of course, it's GPL licensed, and downloadable at vocp.sourceforge.net.

    PK
  • Re:VOIP (Score:3, Informative)

    by urulokion (597607) on Friday March 12, 2004 @08:20PM (#8549096)
    Digium [digium.com] for the cards you need to connect the PSTN and hard phones. Asterisk.org [asterisk.org] for your PBX/VoIP server.

    The Digium cards seem a mght expensive, but there are definately cheaper then channel banks. But don't worry the Asterisk software can handle H.323, SIP and IAX (asterisk's own VoIP protocol). So you can use hard phone, soft phones and hard soft phones?!? (e.g. Cisco VoIP phone)

    I've installed two of the PSTN (FXO) cards, and phone (TDM) card in a spare server with Asterisk. The cards sound and work great. No hint that the call is travelling via my computer. I'm going to be spending this week-end configuring asterisk as my Dual Line/3 Extension Home PBX.

  • by amembleton (411990) <aembleton@ b i g f o o t .com> on Friday March 12, 2004 @08:42PM (#8549205) Homepage
    Given compression rate possible with voice, a 1 minute recording is a bit under 1 MB.

    Thats what I get with my mp3s and OGG files! I have a good quality void recording of a comedian. I've stored it on my hard drive using Speex [speex.org], which is an OSS codec that's designed for speech. It takes up less than 346KB per minute of recording. This figure could be pushed even lower if you were recording from a telephone as sound quality wouldn't matter so much as it will already have been heavily compressed.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 12, 2004 @08:51PM (#8549238)
    Uhh you don't need any extra hardware over what you would need for an *H323 solution. You can use software-based phones if you have nothing else. You can get a SIP phone for $65 if you are on a serious budget and want the feel of a phone in your hand when you talk. You'll never find a phone that is compatible with *H323 for that low.

    I have less than $300 and have three internal extensions and one external line. A comparable pbx would be much more expensive and MUCH less flexible. I've been able to do with Asterisk in about 30 minutes what would have taken months of C programming on any decent PBX (and a $10k developer license).
  • by Gunfighter (1944) on Friday March 12, 2004 @09:18PM (#8549366) Homepage
    Yes, I offer Asterisk for _exactly_ this application. It's more or less a 'follow me' service so that you can work from wherever you want and have your extension forwarded to wherever you want. Once the workday is over, just turn off the forwarding and let everything roll to voicemail. The great thing with this is that you can then set the extensions however you want them: hunt groups, call center queue, etc. etc. You can even park the call and then contact a co-worker (we use Jabber) to dial into the system and pick up the parked call from wherever he or she may be at the time. From the caller's perspective, it's almost like they were transferred directly to the person down the hall from you. A little re-configuration and you have a conference call server... fire up some XML-RPC to your backend database and you have an IVR system... the list goes on and on.

    Asterisk is much more flexible than working everything directly through the phone company, and can save a bundle on not having to pay for extra features at the Central Office level. After all, in some areas a channelized T1 with 24 trunks (think 12 in & 12 out) is cheaper than twelve centrex lines with all of the features. When you compare this over the long run, this savings, coupled with the lower hardware costs, can make a full featured phone system ROI _very_ quickly for the virtual office environment.

    (Hints: Ask your phone company to let you colo the box so you don't have to pay the local loop charge for the T1. Also be sure to ask what it would cost to go ahead and split two of the 64k channels out for Internet access so you can administer it remotely without having to use a modem.)

  • by nettdata (88196) on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:18PM (#8549610) Homepage
    Interesting, and some excellent insight.

    In my newly formed office, where there are developers/sales/finance people working out of their home offices in Toronto, Boston, Vancouver, NY, and LA, we opted to go for the Telco features as it's a truly virtual system. We have a North American toll-free number that people can call, and it gives you the usual "welcome to our company... sales press 1, tech support press 2, company directory press 3", etc.

    At that point, it will hunt down an individual or series of individuals (if the first in the hunt group is unavailalbe). This will follow on and try their cel phone, home office number, etc. automatically. If they're not there, VM is left for the individual or the company, and it's them emailed as an attachment to the appropriate individual or list.

    This is very handy where we don't have the option of putting in more than one line at a location for a real office, and our PBX is truly virtual, as it doesn't really demarc anywhere. It also gives us LOTS of available lines should our product take off, and 100 people all call at once to place their order... no busy signals.

    While it may be kind of expensive for the initial setup ($2k), the monthly charge is REALLY cheap, and it gives us the truly distributed virtual phone system we were looking for.

    I know this isn't an Open Source solution, but it did help us immensely for our virtual office.

  • Emailing voicemail (Score:2, Informative)

    by gentlemoose (313278) on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:24PM (#8549632) Homepage
    While certainly not opensource, Oracle's new Collaboration Suite handles that functionality remarkably gracefully. Straight to the inbox as (oog) a .wav file. Time to up the mail quotas.
  • by Cylix (55374) * on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:57PM (#8549768) Homepage Journal
    We are primarily a windows desktop environment. (Believe it or not management has considered a linux change over a time or two.... progress!)

    You are running in mostly the right direction it seems.

    We have two methods for the print-to-fax gateway.
    The first, available for any systems, involes an smb print share. This print share via cups uses sambafax. http://www.purpel3.com/sambafax/sambafax_6B.html Essentially, it just parses the postscript file and takes out the send number. It's fairly basic and relies on users authing to the print share for identification and return notification via email of job status. I'm going to rewrite this and include some extended information parsed out of the cover letter. It works for now.

    The second method for print to fax, uses a windows printer driver for hylafax. This unfortunately only works on windows 2000 and I'm presuming XP. Upon printing to fax, this driver prompts for a phone number to send to.

    The drawback is of course you have to include your cover letter when printing to fax. You could optionally configure a default generic cover letter with hylafax, but our staff generally likes custom covers.

    The windows driver is open source and available on sourceforge. It's a good place to start if you are looking at extending its functionality. I don't think a talk back is the right way to go in this instance as all the things you need done can be submitted directly to hylafax.

    For job status monitoring, resubmission and cancelation we use PylaFax. PylaFax is a stand alone client written in python. It connects directly to the hylafax server. You can send with it as well, but it requires creating a TIFF image to fax. (I think?) In any event, its perfect for job monitoring for all of our users.

    Since everything is setup correctly, all jobs are ID'd by username as well.

    So far, web management of incoming faxs is rather paultry at the moment. There are several little applications, but nothing I'm happy with either. SO yes, a couple more areas where things need polishing. Personally, I was thinking of a moregroupware module as this would fit in perfectly for our needs.

    It looks like we have some common goals though and maybe some collaboration could be fruitful.
  • by kwpulliam (691406) <kevin.pulliam@gmai l . c om> on Friday March 12, 2004 @11:27PM (#8549878) Journal
    Actually - We use a Cisco IP Phone setup at work, with some sort of auto compression of the messages at work. A normal 30 second mesage runs about 500k, and I regularly forward or recieve forwarded voicemail messages.
  • by Roblimo (357) on Friday March 12, 2004 @11:43PM (#8549919) Homepage Journal
    "OpenOffice.org appears to lack the ability to track changes - essential for multiple people working on a project. Compare document is not enough. You need to be able to identify changes, and add comment bubbles for the development and review process. Additionally OOo needs to have a basic project management tool, drawing tool, and even a note taking tool a la MS Project, Visio and OneNote. That would cover most business needs."

    OpenOffice.org has all of these features. I've used OOo to write one book and edit a couple of others. Now I'm using it to write another one for a major publisher (Addison-Wesley), and will need to go through at least a couple of rounds of edits by several different people, complete with comment bubbles and the rest, not to mention handling a whole bunch of illustrations that include screenshots, photos, and charts/graphs. For note-taking I have a whole raft of open source alternatives.

    I'll be interacting with MS Office users all the way, too, and I expect no problems since I've done this before and it worked out fine.

    - Robin
  • OpenCD (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 13, 2004 @12:49AM (#8550162)
    Go download an ISO of the OpenCD (version 1.2, currently). It has open-source, free applications that do just about everything you're asking for.

    I use the windows version for any new computer I put together for people. When someone tells me "I don't want to have to spend several hundred dollars for MS Office, $600 for Adobe, an ftp client, and so on... I just break out the CD and tell them to have fun.

    It comes with OpenOffice, Bender, GIMP, a POV Tracer, FileZillah, TightVNC and many other free opensource applications. It's beautiful! Even I use it for personal machines when I don't want to search around for all the appls I need over again.

    Oh - and it also comes with a compression utility called 7zip.
  • by gnu-generation-one (717590) on Saturday March 13, 2004 @09:33AM (#8551384) Homepage
    "Office software - OpenOffice.org appears to lack the ability to track changes - essential for multiple people working on a project. Compare document is not enough. You need to be able to identify changes, and add comment bubbles for the development and review process. Additionally OOo needs to have a basic project management tool, drawing tool, and even a note taking tool a la MS Project, Visio and OneNote. That would cover most business needs."

    The more and more complex your documentation, notes, and filesystem becomes, the more you realise that you need a Wiki to organise it all. If you want to have lots of people collaborating on a document, tracking changes, writing comments, and re-using text between documents, then word processors by themselves simply aren't capable enough, but that's something an internal Wiki excels in.

    As to drawing tools, I can't believe we're talking about the same products. Where I work, OpenOffice has one of the best drawing tools I've ever used, whereas Microsoft Office doesn't have anything. We've got engineers trying to do technical drawing in MS-Word, and you wouldn't believe how ugly the results are. Visio would be nice, but it's not part of MS-Office, it's 150-400 GBP extra. Can someone who's used both tell me why Visio is worth so much more money? And anyone who says 'because it's part of MS-Office' doesn't know enough about Visio's history.

    As to note-taking, what is it that you're so sure OpenOffice *must have* before you'll look at it? You have some sort of company where people open up Microsoft note-taking software when they receive a phone call rather than using a text-editor or word-processor or a postit note like everyone else? Do you take your computers into meetings and try to take notes on that?

    Project management? Even the most hardcore Microsoft-users in our office are baulking at the idea of paying 400-500 GBP per-person, per-computer for a project planning tool. Not that they'd ever consider using anything other than Microsoft Project, of course.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 13, 2004 @12:32PM (#8552219)
    working clicky [paytrust.com] (somebody forgot to "Check those URLs!")

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