February 25, 2005 8:05 AM PST

IBM backs open-source Web software

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January 10, 2005
IBM is putting its corporate heft behind a popular open-source Web development technology called PHP, in a move meant to reach out to a broader set of developers.

On Friday, the tech giant announced a partnership with Zend Technologies to create a bundle called Zend Core, which includes IBM's Cloudscape-embedded database and Zend's PHP development tools. Zend sells tools built on the open-source edition of PHP and offers related services.

The two companies intend to devote programmers to make PHP work better with corporate databases and Web services protocols. IBM also plans to establish an area dedicated to PHP on its developer Web site, which will include technical resources such as white papers. Zend Core will be available as a free download in the second half of the year.

PHP, originally known as Personal Home Page, is a widely used scripting language for generating Web pages. Unlike compiled languages such as Java or C, scripting languages like PHP are easier to learn. They are generally used for simpler tasks, rather than for complex number-crunching jobs.

Big Blue's public commitment to PHP is significant because the company has the technical and marketing resources to accelerate usage of the open-source product. IBM's investments in Linux and Java, for example, were crucial to mainstream corporation adoption of those technologies.

"We've got ideas for improving things," said Rod Smith, IBM's vice president of emerging technology. "We worked on specifications in the Java community that weren't language-specific and are applicable to the PHP world."

Staying committed to Java
PHP has a vibrant open-source community around it and is often used to build applications that run on Linux. The latest enhancements to the language are designed to help Web developers better handle XML-formatted data and Web services protocols.

IBM has made significant investments in Java software and will continue to invest in Java industry standards and its WebSphere-branded line of server software and tools, Smith said. Its commitment to PHP is a way to reach out to more developers, particularly in small and medium-size businesses, he said.

Smith said that the simplicity of PHP is one of its greatest assets. Business analysts without a background in computer science, for example, could create Web pages that pull data from back-end sources, he said.

"We're in a better position to look at a language that fits people's background and what they want to accomplish, rather than saying everything has to be written in one particular language that scales from easy-to-use to high-performance systems," Smith said.

Scripting languages such as PHP, Perl and Python have been around for several years and their use appears to be growing, according to analysts. IBM's participation in the open-source PHP community will help make development more professional, said Anne Thomas Manes, an analyst at the Burton Group.

"There's always been a huge interest in scripting languages...It makes sense for IBM to get into it," said Thomas Manes.

IBM could also benefit from smaller companies that build an initial Web application with PHP and then later upgrade to Big Blue's WebSphere server software, which is better suited for transactions, noted Thomas Murphy, an analyst at the Meta Group.

"People recognize that scripting languages fill a certain space in the market, including others in the Java community," Murphy said. "As IBM pushes into the small and medium-size market, which uses a lot of scripting, they need to make a play there."

One industry executive who requested not to be named said that IBM's push into PHP and scripting reflects IBM's disillusionment with the Java standardization process and the industry's inability to make Java very easy to use.

"IBM's been so fed up with Java that they've been looking for alternatives for years," the executive said. "They want people to build applications quickly that tap into IBM back-ends...and with Java, it just isn't happening."

For his part, Smith said that Java and PHP can be used for different tasks and said that IBM remains committed to Java.

Separately on Friday, IBM announced plans to submit about 30 projects to SourceForge.net, a Web site that hosts thousands of open-source projects. Included in the IBM donations are the Jikes product, which is designed to speed up Java development.

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