What's Next for Microsoft and PHP?

Zend Technologies and Microsoft collaboration discussed at the Zend/PHP Conference and Expo.

Despite speculation that Microsoft would make an announcement around its Silverlight runtime environment at last month's fourth annual Zend/PHP Conference and Expo (ZendCon) in Santa Clara, Calif., the company kept a relatively low profile.

Microsoft wouldn't comment on the rumors, which circulated against the backdrop of an Adobe Systems Inc. announcement about its collaboration efforts with Zend Technologies Ltd. Adobe will deliver content, technology and services to enterprise developers building rich Internet applications (RIAs) using its Flex technology on the client and PHP on the server.

"I wouldn't be shocked to see a Silverlight announcement around PHP in the near term," says Gartner Inc. analyst Mark Driver. "Adobe's Flex is a competitor, and Microsoft won't want to sit on the sidelines while they scoop up all the PHP developers."

Bola Rotibi, analyst with U.K.-based Macehiter Ward-Dutton Ltd., agrees: "Adobe had to support PHP in Flex," she says. "And so will Microsoft in Silverlight. There are just too many Web developers who use PHP not to."

Driver also believes that a Microsoft-Zend collaboration to bring support for PHP to Microsoft's Dynamic Language Runtime (DLR) would make sense. The DLR adds a set of services designed for dynamic languages to its Common Language Runtime (CLR). Python and Ruby are currently supported.

Tough Crowd for Microsoft
PHP is one of the most popular dynamic scripting languages. It continues to grow in popularity; TIOBE Software BV's Programming Community Index -- available here -- currently ranks PHP ahead of Ruby, Python and Perl, and just behind Visual Basic and C++ on its popularity index.

Microsoft began working with Zend in October 2007 to provide customers with richer functionality and better integration of PHP on Windows. Zend is regarded as a leading supplier of PHP-based software for Web applications deployed on Linux.

Redmond continues to work with Zend to improve compatibility between Windows and Zend's PHP distribution, says Zend co-founder and co-CTO Andi Gutmans.

During a conference keynote, Gutmans said the PHP community is working to improve the performance of PHP apps running on Windows. An improved binary package in the upcoming PHP 5.3 release will include the latest Microsoft compilers. Gutmans also noted that a growing number of third-party libraries support PHP on Windows.

Despite the activity, Microsoft was scarcely in evidence at this year's show. Gartner's Driver praised the decision, given the hostile audience at some open source events. "There's an extremely vocal minority of people who have a chip on their shoulder when it comes to Microsoft getting involved with open source," he says.

Mark Driver Quote

A Friendlier Future
Open source developers can expect to see more of Microsoft, said Zend CEO Harold Goldberg during his conference-opening keynote. He suggested that the open source LAMP stack -- which currently comprises Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP/Python/Perl -- might one day include Windows, Microsoft, IBM DB2, JavaScript, VMware and Dojo.

Microsoft wasn't completely absent from ZendCon. Tom Hanrahan, director of the Microsoft Open Source Technology Center, talked up the company's efforts to embrace both open source and PHP through its Open Source Labs.

"We're trying to drive interoperability and integration with open source into the Windows platform by design," he said in the one session hosted by Microsoft.

Driver says Microsoft must take these steps: "Microsoft doesn't want four to five million PHP programmers to assume that there's an inherent advantage to deploying their applications on Linux instead of Windows," he explains. "The Zend-Microsoft collaboration is a good, solid strategy for Microsoft and Zend, but it's also good for the PHP community."

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance author and journalist based in Silicon Valley. His latest book is The Everything Guide to Social Media. Follow John on Twitter, read his blog on, check out his author page on Amazon, or e-mail him at

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