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Microsoft's Latest Script: Improve PHP on Windows

Microsoft and Zend expect to extend the technical collaboration to the next version of Windows Server, code-named "Longhorn."

Microsoft is taking action to improve the performance of PHP-based applications running on Windows Server 2003. Redmond is collaborating with Zend Technologies Ltd., the Cupertino, Calif.-based provider of products and services for the open source PHP scripting language, to provide developers with richer functionality and better integration of PHP on Windows.

Zend is a leading contributor to the development of the core PHP language. The company's founders, Andi Gutmans and Zeev Suraski, are the designers of the Zend Engine (the name is a blend of "Zeev" and "Andi"), on which all PHP sites and applications are now run.

Microsoft and Zend expect to extend the technical collaboration to the next version of Windows Server, code-named "Longhorn." They also plan to contribute any enhancements resulting from the collaboration to the PHP community under the open source PHP license.

The two companies made the announcement during the opening keynote presentations at the Zend/PHP Conference & Expo last month. Gutmans, who is also Zend's vice president of technology, told attendees that his company plans to incorporate any technology improvements generated by the collaboration into the Zend Core product line in the first quarter of 2007. A technology preview of an updated Windows version of Zend Core (PHP 5.2.0 distribution) is available now.

Bill Hilf, general manager of Microsoft's technical platform strategy group, was on hand at the conference for the announcement.

"We certainly are very aware of PHP, and have been for a long time," Hilf told conference attendees. "And we've always seen the same problem: Lots of people developing on PHP, but running into problems when they tried to deploy PHP to Windows. We finally said, let's fix some of the fundamental performance and reliability issues, so that when people want to deploy to Windows it isn't such a challenge."

The collaboration actually started seven months ago, Hilf said. He and Bill Staples, from Microsoft's IIS team, demoed one early result of that collaboration: a FastCGI component that acts as an interface between IIS and PHP.

FastCGI is a variation on the earlier Common Gateway Interface (CGI). Microsoft IIS (Internet Information Services) is one of the most widely used Web servers, second only to the Apache server in numbers of Web sites, according to Internet monitoring company Netcraft. The FastCGI PHP component is available as a free download at www.iis.net/default.aspx?tabid=1000051.

Hilf was asked about the open source community's perception of Microsoft's growing involvement in open source software, given the company's history of dismissing and disparaging it over the years. "It's a question that comes up a lot," Hilf admitted. "I often call it the gum stuck on the bottom of my shoe ... What I say is, judge us by our actions, not our words. Judge us by what we produce and the things we do. That's the only way that we will gain credibility in the open source community."

He added that the overall commercialization trend around open source has "helped that conversation to be less emotional." It's impossible, he said, even to talk with someone who believes that all software should be free and that "Microsoft's existence is a blight on the world."

Gutmans said that people should remember there is no single, monolithic open source community. "I don't think there's an open source community," he said. "There are different streams. Parts of the community tend to be very pragmatic [and] to focus on building things like commercial Web sites. There are other parts of this community that are maybe more idealistic about what they're doing. In the PHP community, I think Microsoft will be very well received, because there are a lot of PHP developers actually using Windows."

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She's the author of "Microsoft 2.0" (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), which examines what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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