Zend hails PHP for Microsoft, IBM

Interview: Zend cofounder  Andi Gutmans also waxes on Java, Oracle

Zend Technologies is perhaps the first name in PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor), the popular open-source scripting language for Web development. The company both participates in development of PHP and offers products around the server-side development platform. Andi Gutmans, a cofounder of the company and its vice president of technology, spoke with InfoWorld Editor at Large Paul Krill this week at the Zend/PHP Conference & Expo in San Jose, Calif., about PHP, the company's blockbuster deal with Microsoft, and other happenings.

InfoWorld: What do you see as the significance of Microsoft’s collaboration with Zend that you announced the other day?

Gutmans: The significance is definitely that Microsoft has come to acknowledge the size of the PHP community and also the fact that there is an overlap. There are a lot of PHP users who are interested in getting good PHP support in Windows. And I think with [Microsoft General Manager of Technical Platform Strategy] Bill Hilf's recent work, it shows that Microsoft is now really willing to do what's right for their platform, and also cooperate with its competition in certain areas of interoperability.

InfoWorld: You don’t think Microsoft would rather just have those users develop on Visual Basic or C++?

Gutmans: Oh, definitely. I mean in a perfect world, all those developers would be .Net developers.

InfoWorld: Perfect for Microsoft?

Gutmans: Exactly. That’s obviously what they would like. And you know, they’re not hiding that either. But on the other hand, they realize that that’s not the case and that’s probably never going to be the case. And it’s very hard to ignore a community of 4.5 million developers and have those developers go to Unix and Linux platforms.

InfoWorld: What is Zend’s role in the development of the PHP scripting language?

Gutmans: We’re contributors to the language and the language implementation itself. So, kind of the JVM [Java Virtual Machine] of PHP is called the Zend Engine, and that was originally developed by [Zend Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer] Zeev Suraski and myself in 1998.

InfoWorld: Who is the founder of PHP?

Gutmans: Rasmus Lerdorf. He wrote the original version. And then in 1997 we wrote PHP 3. We helped write that.  And then the big rewrite came about a year or two later, which was PHP 4 and the Zend Engine.

InfoWorld: What were the main goals in the development of PHP?

Gutmans: The main goal is being the best Web development language. The big advantage of PHP is that we are solely focused on the Web and Web services. And that is what makes the language so powerful. We don’t try [to] be a general-purpose language.

InfoWorld: Is Zend profitable these days, leveraging open source technology like PHP?

Gutmans: Currently we’re still in the investment stage. In the summer, we completed Series D round [financing], a $20 million round. And so we are still investing in growing the business.

InfoWorld: How does PHP compare to other scripting languages such as AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML), Ruby, Perl, Python, JavaScript? AJAX is not a language per se. How does PHP compare to all these others?

Gutmans: AJAX and JavaScript are the technologies that are used on the client side. And PHP works very well in conjunction with that. So they complement each other.

InfoWorld: What about Ruby, etc?

Gutmans: It’s also a dynamic language like those other languages, like Perl and Python.  But PHP is by far the most popular.

InfoWorld: Why do you think PHP is the most popular?

Gutmans: I think because of our very, very strong focus on the Web. We’ve always been the most efficient when it comes to developing Web applications. And also it’s a very, very easy language to pick up. So you don’t have to have to be a software engineer or a computer science graduate to use PHP. I often say that PHP is the Visual Basic of the Web. You can just be kind of an ad hoc developer, no real formal training, and be very, very efficient.

InfoWorld: Does PHP displace Java on the server side?

Gutmans: No, I don’t think it completely displaces Java. .. I think there is a bit of an overlap.  And there’s no doubt that there is a trend moving from Java to PHP for Web applications, because Java is too complicated and takes too much time to develop. But there are certain areas where you’d continue to use Java and you wouldn’t use PHP. For example, in non-Web related things such as back-end finance systems that [do] two-phase commits, transaction management, message queues. You wouldn’t use PHP there.

InfoWorld: What’s going on with Zend and PHP as far as the Eclipse platform?

Gutmans: Zend joined IBM and we partner with IBM to develop PHP language support in Eclipse. We joined the Eclipse Foundation as a strategic developer. I am Zend’s board member on the Eclipse Foundation's board. And we really see this as an opportunity to significantly increase the ecosystem around PHP. [We want to] allow companies to leverage the PHP work we’re doing in Eclipse and provide their users, in most cases Java users, very good integration with PHP.

InfoWorld: You don’t see any clash between what Zend is doing and what you’re doing with Eclipse in PHP?

Gutmans: No. First of all, it very much complements what we call our collaboration strategy or collaborative strategy, where we try and increase and build the ecosystem around us and PHP.  And secondly, we also plan to leverage Eclipse for our own products.

InfoWorld: Which products would those be?

Gutmans: We will be definitely using the Rich Client Platform of Eclipse for [a new] GUI in the Zend Guard product [for intellectual property protection].

InfoWorld: How will you use it for the Zend Guard product?

Gutmans: It’s like a management GUI. … We use the Rich Client Platform as the underlying technology.  And we will also be providing development tools that are built on Eclipse.

InfoWorld: What is your take on the Oracle announcement last week about supporting Red Hat Linux?  Do you think this is a death knell for Red Hat?

Gutmans: I’m not sure. If Oracle succeeds, I don’t know if it’s a death knell. I think still a lot of vendors are going to prefer kind of the best-of-breed vendor for Linux. But [Red Hat] could lose some business, especially the Oracle business. [Red Had has] got some pricing pressure… There’s obviously another option, which is that Oracle is just trying to drive down the price [of Red Hat stock]. And maybe this is a one- to two-year plan to actually acquire Red Hat.

InfoWorld: Was there anything else you wanted to touch on that I’m not thinking to ask about?

Gutmans: I think maybe about IBM. We have a very strong partnership with IBM.  And I don’t know if you follow the System i?

InfoWorld: The old AS/400?

Gutmans: Yes.

InfoWorld: What’s happening with that?

Gutmans: What’s happening there is about five years ago IBM ported J2EE over to System i in order to re-energize the platform, Web enable it. And that was very unsuccessful because it was very hard for COBOL and RPG developers to adopt Java. It’s just too complicated.  And so they are getting behind PHP now because they see that as being the real solution to Web-enabling the platform, getting those developers moved over. So we announced, I think it was in March, we announced a multi-[year], multi-million dollar OEM deal with IBM. And they’re shipping Zend Core and Zend Studio to their customers for free as part of that OEM deal. Right now it looks extremely promising. I mean it really seems their community is extremely enthusiastic and receptive of PHP.  And we’re seeing some of the biggest System i users looking to adopt PHP.

InfoWorld: Who is your competitor in the PHP space?

Gutmans: We don’t really have a competitor right now. It’s like we don’t have one competitor really that has a solution like us.  There are all sorts of little shops that do all sorts of things.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.