Tools make PHP shine
Zend Studio and PHPEd lend a commercial polish to open source Web development
the entrenchment of commercial Web application languages — most notably Microsoft’s ASP (now ASP.Net), Sun's JSP, and Macromedia's ColdFusion -- seems to leave little room for open source alternatives. Yet one open source Web scripting language has truly hit the big time: PHP(which bears the fashionably recursive acronym "PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor").
Of the roughly 10 million sites running on the Apache Web server, nearly half are running PHP, according to SecuritySpace.com , a consulting group that gathers statistics on Internet online services. More surprising, the U.K.-based Internet research and analysis company Netcraft reported last August that the use of PHP on Windows Web servers is skyrocketing and is on course to overtake Macromedia's ColdFusion.
Commercial scripting languages have drawn their success from powerful and widely used development tools: ASP has Visual Studio, Cold Fusion has Dreamweaver, and JSP has a variety of tools from commercial sources such as Borland and from open source projects such as Eclipse and NetBeans . PHP's enormous success, however, is not tied to specific tools. Rather, the combination of a code editor and a browser is likely the most common PHP development environment.
But commercial alternatives do exist. The gold standard is Macromedia Dreamweaver , which counts PHP among its many supported Web application languages. Commercial tools dedicated solely to PHP development are rare. Two of the most often used tools are NuSphere's PHPEd 3.3 and Zend Technologies' Zend Studio 3.0.2.
I used two platforms for testing: an Apple 17-inch PowerBook running OS X 10.3 (Panther) with a Power Mac G5 running OS X 10.3 Server; and a Fujitsu Athlon-M Lifebook running Windows 2003 Server and hosting Linux under Microsoft's Virtual PC.
PHPEdPuts It All in One Box
NuSphere PHPEd and Zend Studio match up closely in terms of core functionality. PHPEd is limited to Windows and Linux, which restricts its audience but will likely satisfy the majority of PHP developers. The Windows version of PHPEd includes remote debugger executables for platforms that PHPEd does not support, including OS X. I tested the product using Windows XP.
Although the idea of platform-limited tools for a cross-platform language rankles me a bit, I have few other reservations about PHPEd. Three features in particular stand out: strong database support, an embedded browser,
and online documentation. NuSphere’s IDE (integrated development environment) has a built-in database client with viewing, editing, and query capabilities for MySQL and PostgreSQL. The embedded Web browser overlays the editor window by default, but its layout is fully customizable.