Digium released its new open source, free-of-cost AsteriskNOW software appliance in the first week of the new year. Actually, it's been around for quite awhile; the company just didn't make a big fuss about it until now. AsteriskNOW is billed as "Asterisk in 30 minutes." Everything needed to get up and running is rolled into a single tidy bundle a customized Linux operating system (that looks a lot like Red Hat), Asterisk, and a sleek Ajax-based Web administration interface. It's officially still in beta, so you don't want to roll it out on production systems without a good bit of testing.
AsteriskNOW is available in several different images: a LiveCD, a Xen guest domain, a VMware Player image, x86-32 and x86-64. You need the Firefox Web browser to use the Web administration interface, although future releases should support more browsers.
AsteriskNOW fills an important gap in the gaggle of Asterisk implementations. There is plain-vanilla free-of-cost Asterisk, which is a bit of a chore to install. The only Linux distribution that has any Asterisk packages is Debian. For the others, you must download several tarballs and build Asterisk from sources, and then manage a large herd of text configuration files. Another option is the Asterisk Business Edition, which is a complete bundle similar to AsteriskNOW but with more goodies and vendor support. TrixBox is an obese Asterisk with every possible bell, whistle and add-on. It includes the operating system, MySQL, FreePBX, HUDLite, SugarCRM and other programs that may or may not be useful to you. At the opposite end of the scale is AstLinux, which weighs in at around 40 megabytes, including the operating system. AstLinux is a great program with one weakness it's not easy to add or remove programs.
AsteriskNOW is perfect for admins who want a friendlier Asterisk without all kinds of extra baggage one that is easier to install and configure. Asterisk is a complex beast. AsteriskNOW's Web GUI handles this complexity nicely. It is well-designed and organized by task, such as "Users," "Conferencing," and "Voicemail." A welcome feature is the "Record a Menu" tab, which lets you record custom prompts without having to jump through a lot of hoops like plain-vanilla Asterisk.
Be sure to check out the AsteriskNOW Beta forums for lots of help and information.