PHP Five Stayin’ Alive?

With the upcoming release of PHP 5.1 beta, I am hoping that the PHP 5 revolution I was promised will finally become more of a reality. The truth is that adoption of PHP 5 (among anyone besides the hardcore PHP geek) seems to be very slow. Perhaps companies are shying away from the .0 release tag, given that web shops depending on PHP don’t want to bank on the bleeding edge. But are there other reasons PHP 5 hasn’t gone mainstream yet? I think so.
I don’t think, first of all, that PHP 5 has been “marketed” very well. It’s a strange term to use for free software, but the reality is that in some sense of the word PHP 5 is in fact competing with its predecessor, PHP 4. Given that PHP 4 releases have now been relegated solely to bug fixes, not new features, you would think it only a matter of time before 4-ites have to give way to 5 to take advantage of that cool new feature only available in PHP 5.

But PHP 5 came out with a slew of new features, most notably an OO model we were told we could trust. But the truth is that project managers and executives don’t know why a robust OO model matters unless developers tell them about it. And my hunch is that most PHP developers don’t know enough about why the new OO model is “good” to make the case. As for the other features we should care about, sure, there are a lot of them. But the truth is that PHP 5 hasn’t exactly lit any fires.

PHP 4 does just about everything most web developers wish it would do. It’s a hard act to follow. And, given PHP 4 has had some bumps along the way in terms of security and bugs, it makes sense that now that we finally have a reasonably rock-solid scripting language in the 4.3.x branch, most of us that live and die by PHP–especially those of us still mildly traumatized by switching up from 3 to 4–are leaving our production system dials set to “4” for now.

When will we know PHP 5 has hit the big time? When people say it does. People that roll the RPMs for Red Hat Enterprise, the dpkg packges for Debian, the emerge packages for Gentoo–then we’ll know PHP 5 has arrived. When OS 10.5–“Were Rabbit” (after all, they’ve run out of felines now, haven’t they?)–ships with mod_php5 loaded into Apache, and Oracle starts encouraging people to use PHP 5 with their DBMS, then we’ll know the enterprise has embraced PHP 5 as fully as can be expected (for now).

Until then, it seems like we’re still stuck in another case of the open source community not thinking of itself as a for-business community, not considering marketing as a factor in delivering its products, not “selling” their next big thing loudly enough. Maybe it makes us feel elite, special, in-the-know, to sit on great software. But the truth is I’d rather be coding PHP than resenting the fact I didn’t speak out.

PHP 5 has got to come to light. Will adding a .1 do the trick? We shall see.