Zend: the not-just-an-IDE Company

What Zend’s recent announcement actually means has been the buzz of the PHP blogosphere lately. While their partnership with Eclipse is fairly easy to understand (in some ways, I always wondered if their slogan, “The PHP Company” might accurately changed to “the IDE company” since their main focus has been on the Zend Studio for so long). However, their business partnerships and underlying (stated) attempt to bring a unified application development process to PHP is both tantalizing and bewildering.
The motivation for this move is pretty clear: Zend has always sought to partner up with big-name businesses, and the PHP community should thank them for it: it raises the profile of PHP so it’s that much easier the next time you propose using it at work. No doubt the need they are seeking to address is the complaint on the part of business that PHP does not have a unified framework like ASP or JSP. The truth is, however, that if you understand the theory behind the frameworks–things like MVC and design patterns (which I bring to you in a future release of PHP Magazine)–then you can design well structured, extensible web applications without having to suffer under the weight of someone else’s generalizations (i.e. a generic framework). Web applications, after all, venture far and wide these days and often provide the glue that sustains the daily Internet and intranet transactions of business. A lot of that glue is PHP.

On the other hand, maintaining practical standards is always something I have advocated to bring PHP to business. So why the skepticism? Because out of context (i.e. in generic terms) such principles often restrict more than guide. Furthermore, I see the motivations of business to want to define and embrace a standard framework as largely stemming from the status quo of other languages (languages, by the way, that PHP by virtue of its flexibility and low barrier to entry has vastly outstripped in popularity) and via circumstantial evidence and subjective half-understandings of the technical importance of these measures (“I heard it was a good idea”).

All in all, the bottom line is: we will have to wait and see. Perhaps Zend will indeed produce the holy grail of a unified, well-adopted PHP framework. Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for PHP 5 to arrive. And hoping one day we won’t look back on where we are now and nostalgically sigh, “remember when PHP used to be fun?”