I spent about 90 minutes Monday night trying to set up an Ooma, a phone system that piggybacks both on your broadband Internet connection and land line. My experience: it was a pain to install, but now it works pretty well.
I've griped to acquaintances about how ordinary folks have had to become first system administrators and now, with broadband and multiple computers per household, network administrators. Setting up a review model from Ooma raised these hackles anew.
There was nothing seriously newbie-deterring like command-line utility, or even setup software. The Ooma system setup had two other afflictions instead.
First is the multitude of cables and wires that must be interfestooned with your existing tangle of network cables, phone cords, DSL line filters and such. My case, with a DSL connection, a wireless router and a four-port switch, was an exercise in topological combinatorics and dust-bunny avoidance. It's hard to imagine how Ooma could get around this issue, though, given the company's approach.
My other hitch was that the Ooma system was short on feedback. With no screen, you have to decode mysterious combinations of lit, unlit or blinking lights of various colors to figure out what's up. It took a long time, for example, to figure out one problem I had was that the Ooma's lights were dimmed and not that the system was shutting down abruptly because of some network glitch. It would have been nice to be able to peek at its status over the local network.
Once I finally got everything put together (and figured out how to turn off the direct-to-voice-mail setting), things started looking up. Calls are clearer than our regular old land line was, even with our junky Uniden phones whose failure I eagerly anticipate. It also was nicer than another VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol, aka Internet telephony) experience I've had, Skype. Checking voice mail online is nice. We've only tested the system for less than a day, though.
The Ooma boxes aren't junky, though. To the contrary, in fact. To me, accustomed to products with a half-life of 12 months, Ooma products feel a bit overengineered. But as another Ooma tester I chatted with said, "It is nicely designed, so I don't feel the need to hide it."
Our phone bills are pretty darned low, or more accurately our long-distance fees are paid mostly to cell phone companies, so I'm not eager to pay $400 up front to get rid of long land-line distance bills forever, as Ooma promises. But if you get in on the White Rabbit freebie system (which also serves to build out a necessary network of intercommunicating Ooma boxes), give it a shot.