Zend CEO: PHP is fit for the enterprise

In a Q&A, the prominent developer Andi Gutmans also defends language against criticisms over security

PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) is a well-established server-side dynamic language platform for Web development. Among its many users have been important Web properties such as SugarCRM and the Drupal content management system. Perhaps the top promoter of PHP is Zend Technologies, which offers an application server and development tools for PHP and stresses PHP usage in enterprises.

Andi Gutmans, Zend's CEO and co-founder, has been a key participant in the ongoing development of PHP since the 1990s. He spoke with InfoWorld Editor at Large Paul Krill, praising PHP's role in cloud and mobile computing while defending its security capabilities and performance. He also talked about PHP's status vis à vis other languages, even asserting that PHP has put Perl down for the count when it comes to languages.

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InfoWorld: What really drove your decision to work with PHP, and why has PHP become so prevalent?

Gutmans: What drove us to work on PHP was mainly fun. We were at university, we did a project. We just finished a compiler course, which basically gives you the foundation to build a language, so we put a lot of time into just for fun trying to make this better. We had no commercial aspirations, we just did it for fun. We went back to [PHP founder Rasmus Lerdorf] and we said, "Why don't you embrace this new version because we think it's better?" That's what happened, and the whole PHP project moved over to what we built, and it became a phenomenal success. It was actually only about three years later when we started to think about building a commercial business around PHP.

InfoWorld: What role does PHP, a server-side platform, have in the realm of mobile device applications?

Gutmans: Mobile is all about engaging users, engaging partners, and doing that in a much more effective way. As part of that engagement, we think it's about personalizing the experience and creating the right context for the mobile user. That context gets created on the server side because it's an aggregate of what we know from the mobile device, what we know from our existing systems, what we know from social platforms. So the server side is very, very critical, maybe even more critical than the client side to create these personalized experiences because it actually has to do all the heavy lifting of bringing all these different systems together and personalizing the response and the data for consumption by the client side.

For example, you're accessing your bank's Web application, let's say you're on Wells Fargo, and you want to know where the ATMs are in your neighborhood. Your location will go to a server side, the server side will do all the mapping, and maybe it knows who you are and it knows you don't like a certain ATM and it could actually personalize that response and send it back to the client. Server side is critical to building these new experiences.

InfoWorld: What's the main driver for PHP in cloud computing?

Gutmans: A lot of people think of cloud as the what, and I think it's the how. Mobile is a big piece of the what, like mobile application development is really one of the highest-priority items for organizations. What happens, though, is as you're building mobile, you're engaging external to the organization, and you need to be able to do a few things. You need to have a much more agile development and production process, which cloud is really good at because there's a lot of automation. You can do automation without cloud, but I'd say cloud is a lot easier and a lot more relevant.

The second thing is you're reaching billions of users on mobile devices potentially, so having the elastic scale of cloud becomes very, very important. While you don't have to use cloud to deliver mobile apps, we believe that mobile application development pulls with it cloud usage because cloud is such a great runtime platform for serving mobile devices.

InfoWorld: The two languages most often mentioned in the same breath with PHP would be Perl and Python. Would you agree with that?

Gutmans: Probably today it's Ruby and Python. I think Perl is long gone, thanks to PHP.

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