Observers At ZendCon Ponder What's Next For Microsoft and PHP

Could Silverlight be on tap?

Despite speculation that Microsoft might make an announcement around its Silverlight runtime environment at this week's fourth annual Zend/PHP Conference and Expo in Santa Clara, Calif., the company's profile was lower than past ZendCon events.

Microsoft would not comment on the rumors, which circulated against the backdrop of Adobe Systems Inc.'s announcement that it is now collaborating with Zend to start delivering content, technology and services to enterprise developers building rich Internet applications (RIAs) using its Flex technology on the client and PHP on the server.

"I wouldn't be shocked to see a Silverlight announcement around PHP in the near term," said Gartner analyst Mark Driver. "Adobe's Flex is a competitor, and Microsoft won't want to sit on the sidelines while they scoop up all the PHP developers."

Bola Rotibi, analyst with Macehiter Ward-Dutton, agrees: "Adobe had to support PHP in Flex," she says. "And so will Microsoft in Silverlight. There are just too many Web developers who use PHP not to."

Driver also believes that a Microsoft-Zend collaboration to bring support for PHP to Microsoft's Dynamic Language Runtime (DLR) would make sense. The DLR adds a set of services designed for dynamic languages to its Common Language Runtime (CLR). Python and Ruby are currently supported.

PHP (PHP Hypertext Preprocessor) is one of the most popular dynamic scripting languages. It continues to grow in popularity; TIOBE Software's Programming Community Index currently ranks PHP ahead of Ruby, Python and Perl, and just behind Visual Basic and C++ on its popularity index.

Microsoft began working with Zend in October 2007 to provide customers with richer functionality and better integration of PHP on Windows. Zend is regarded as a leading supplier of PHP-based software for Web applications deployed on Linux.

Despite its diminished presence at this year's annual ZendCon, the Redmond software maker has been working with Zend to improve compatibility between Windows and the Cupertino, Calif.-based company's PHP distribution, and continues to do so, says Andi Gutmans, Zend's co-founder and co-CTO.

During his conference keynote, Gutmans said that the Microsoft-Zend collaboration was moving forward apace. In fact, he said, the PHP community is currently working to improve the performance of PHP applications running on Windows with a better binary package in the upcoming PHP 5.3 release, which will include the latest Microsoft compilers. He also noted that a growing number of third-party libraries are supporting PHP on Windows.

Still, the Microsoft brand was scarcely in evidence at this year's show. Gartner's Driver sees Microsoft's lower profile at the conference as a wise move, given the anti-Redmond sentiments that tend to pervade open-source events. "There's an extremely vocal minority of people who have a chip on their shoulder when it comes to Microsoft getting involved with open source," he said.

With Microsoft in the open-source mix, the open-source world is not likely to remain unchanged. During his conference-opening keynote, Zend CEO Harold Goldberg suggested that the configuration of the open-source LAMP stack, which currently comprises Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP/Python/Perl, might one day include Windows, Microsoft SQL Server, IBM DB2, JavaScript, VMware, and Dojo.

Microsoft wasn't totally absent from ZendCon. Tom Hanrahan, director of the Microsoft Open Source Technology Center, talked up the company's efforts to embrace open source through its Open Source Labs, and in particular, PHP. "We are trying to drive interoperability and integration with open source into the Windows platform by design," he said in the one session hosted by Microsoft.

Driver says Microsoft must take these steps. "Microsoft doesn't want four to five million PHP programmers to assume that there's an inherent advantage to deploying their applications on Linux instead of Windows," he said. "The Zend-Microsoft collaboration is a good, solid strategy for Microsoft and Zend, but it's also good for the PHP community."

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].


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