Zend Advances PHP is the title of an article in the Tech Watch section of InfoWorlds Oct 24 2005 issue. Zend are the people behind the essential P in LAMP-Linux Apache MySQL PHP/Perl/Python that dominates the web development world. PHP is very popular in Europe as well as North America and is winning over major ISVs. Sun is adding more PHP compatible routines in to Java. Oracle has a special PHP development center and has revitalized its PHP database connectors. Ditto for IBM.
So why am I worried ?
Because PHP still does not have a good Visual Layout and Design tool to say nothing of a full powered interactive debugger.
Now Zend and other defenders of PHP will cite Zend Studio or ActiveStates Komodo or Adobes Dreamweaver (have to get used to saying that). But all of these tools are really enhanced text editors. And there are some debugging capabilities in Zend and Komodo while Dreamweaver comes closest to being a visual design tool. But, get serious.
In contrast to the 5-6 years that PHP has been available, look how fast complete IDEs with Visual Design Tools and/or interactive debuggers have grown up around AJAX. ClearNova ThinkCap, Backbase, Tibco General Interface and even Sun in Java Studio Creator all have AJAX IDEs which feature visual layout tools of varying capabilities.
Now some developers, probably with a lot of hair on their chests (or cheeks), will insist that Visual Layout tools are for sissys. Right. And of course these same developers dont deliver prototypes to their users. And when they talk to their clients they do a lot of hand waving and promising that the current spewing of PHP and HTML code all over the screen will be “working real soon anytime or day now”. Visual Design tools help clients and customers see what they are going to get. This is vital in todays agile development processes. It also makes the job easier if new developers have to be brought on board in a project. Visual Design is not a panacea; just another, but sometimes vital tool in helping get a project done.
In the article, it is good to hear the Zend is developing a PHP Framework for developing apps. This will add a standard for how PHP apps should be developed. In addition, Zend will join the Eclipse Foundation, and hopefully bring more than an enhanced text editor to the PHP World. PHP and its libraries are so rich – it deserves better.