March 13, 2008

VoIP app WengoPhone forced to find new sponsor

Author: Nathan Willis

In the closing days of 2007, open source voice-over-IP (VoIP) project WengoPhone found itself without a sponsor. The project's creator and underwriter, Wengo, announced it was halting its support after more than three years of development. Fortunately, longtime contributor MBDSYS offered to take over maintainership of the project, and has begun the transition, setting out a roadmap and reinvigorating the developer base.

Wengo, a subsidiary of French telecom firm Neuf Cegetel, started the WengoPhone project as a means to further its business as a commercial VoIP service provider, selling call-in and call-out services connecting to the public telephone network. By 2007, it had shifted its focus significantly, and let go of its paid WengoPhone developers. Wengo assisted several of those former employees in an attempt to set up a new company to oversee work on the WengoPhone codebase, but the effort failed to take off.

VoIP and embedded Linux consulting company MBDSYS is also based in France, and did much of the work on WengoPhone's early VoIP engine as a subcontractor before Wengo decided to release the app as open source. MBDSYS's VoIP libraries have long been available as free software, and CTO Vadim Lebedev eventually persuaded Wengo's management to release the entire WengoPhone codebase under the GPL.

In January, the two companies announced that they had reached an agreement by which MBDSYS will assume stewardship of the WengoPhone code (released and development branches), Web sites, and mailing lists. Lebedev took over as project maintainer.

Lebedev said that MBDSYS has five developers working on WengoPhone and its underlying libraries, one full-time and four others on a part-time basis. Because its normal line of business often involves contract and customization work with WengoPhone and its components, Lebedev expects taking on management of the project to have little impact on the company's time.

Re-starting development

In the short term, Lebedev says to expect a new release shortly after CeBIT, which ran last week. That release will be based on the current 2.2.x-series code, and will consist of primarily bug fixes, but will also introduce peer-to-peer presence management -- allowing users to relay their present/away status without passing that information through a SIP server.

Another three months down the road, Lebedev hopes to make a more substantial new release, integrating the long-delayed CoIpManager -- a single architecture abstracting instant messaging, SIP, and IAX services. That release should also update the app to use Qt 4.4 and WebKit.

After that, Lebedev has no set agenda, but he has a long list of features he and other developers are eager to work on, including additional communications protocols like P2PP, VNC, Phil Zimmermann's ZRTP encryption, and integration with other open source projects such as Google's libjingle and Linphone's mediastreamer2.

In February, Lebedev sent an informal roadmap to the developers' mailing list and solicited comments. He also announced a desire to rename the project to reflect the app's new life outside of Wengo (and to move away from Wengo's trademarks).

He eventually decided on the name QuteCom, and has begun to set up bug tracking, mailing lists, and source code repositories at qutecom.org. The Web site is not ready yet, but in the meantime interested users and developers can still access all of the old project resources through openwengo.org.

Lebedev admits that although he has been active in open source projects for more than 10 years, this is his first time steering one. He is aware that one of his first tasks as project leader is to rebuild what was once the active WengoPhone developer community. He says a few people are already contributing code, adding, "I hope once the word spreads out that the project has active management again, the developers will be attracted back."

Traffic has increased noticeably on the wengophone-devel mailing list since the Wengo-MBDSYS deal was made public, so the necessary developer interest appears to be in place. The new management team and new name may portend bright things to come. WengoPhone was always unique among VoIP apps -- it made stable, cross-platform releases, and was open source. As such, it was and is uniquely poised to make a positive impact on the still nascent VoIP softphone world.

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