A discussion I had last week reminded me of a company I worked for making protocol converters. When discussions opened about the next generation of hardware that would be used as a platform, the options were either to carry on building proprietary hardware, or to build around a PC with add-on communications cards.

Back then (the late 1980’s) the PC option was actually controversial, and many nay-sayers in the company did not think it would work. Today, I think, the arguments are basically completely reversed, with the PC often being the first choice, unless other considerations intervene, for example the need to build hardware with a sub-$200 cost. It’s not hard to see why. PCs have an incredible range of add-on hardware available; there are many operating systems to choose from (many free); and the available development tools, libraries and even source code.

We see companies like Digium with their Asterisk PBX, and also open co-operative efforts like OpenSER, that take for granted the PC as an open platform, available at a low cost. Not that the proprietary box is yet completely dead: many PBX vendors still make closed boxes, but there is much more appreciation today of the power of the “open systems” route, where customers can take a box and using APIs and open protocols can extend and tune the products to fit a new application.