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Zend and Adobe Partner on RIAs at PHP User Conference

For the fourth year in a row, the once-obscure-now-ubiquitous dynamic scripting language, PHP, took center stage at the annual Zend/PHP conference in Santa Clara, CA. The big news at this year's show (also known as ZendCon) comes from Adobe Systems, which announced plans to collaborate with Zend Technologies, the show's sponsor and the creator and commercial maintainer of PHP.

The two companies said they will be working together to deliver technologies, content, and services aimed at making life easier for enterprise developers building rich Internet applications (RIAs). The collaboration involves Adobe's Flex technology on the client and PHP on the server.

Under this new partnership, San Jose, CA-based Adobe will become a contributor to the Zend Framework, which is Zend's open source, object-oriented Web-app framework. Specifically, Adobe will be providing support for its Action Message Format (AMF), a proprietary protocol originally created by Macromedia and acquired by Adobe when it bought that company. AMF is an open, binary, high-speed format that allows the Flash Player, Adobe's nearly universally implemented client runtime, and Flex-based client apps to exchange rich media and other data with servers.

According to Andi Gutmans, Zend's cofounder and co-CTO, this AMF support will optimize communication between server-side Zend Framework components and client-side Adobe Flex components. The idea, Gutmans explained, is to provide developers with a technology for fast transfer of data between the server and client tiers of their Web applications.

"Adobe is the leader when it comes to enterprise RIAs," Gutmans said. "We believe that it's extremely important for our customers for us to have this relationship."

Cupertino, CA-based Zend has been cultivating such technology partnerships over the past few years. In addition to Adobe, organizations collaborating with Zend include Oracle, Microsoft, and IBM, as well as the nonprofit Eclipse Foundation.

"We need these relationships to get the interoperability PHP developers need to be successful in an enterprise environment," Gutmans said.

Zend kicked off what Gutmans called a two-legged RIA strategy last year. The first element centers around AJAX, which led to a partnership with the Dojo Foundation, sponsor of the popular open DHTML toolkit written in JavaScript. Flex, Adobe's open source framework for building and deploying cross-platform RIAs based on Adobe Flash and AIR, represents the second element.

It's a good fit for Adobe, too, said David Wadhwani, general manager of Adobe's Platform Business Unit. The company has seen strong uptake of Flex among PHP developers since Adobe first brought it to market, Wadhwani said in a statement. The collaboration "furthers Adobe's commitment to open technology initiatives," he said, and will "enable developers using Flex and Zend Framework to rapidly deliver highly engaging applications to both the browser and the desktop."

Developers can also expect "a number of outreach activities" from both Zend and Adobe into their respective dev communities with best practices and educational materials, Gutmans said.

"We want to make sure that our users are successful," he explained. "We're going to target a broad audience to promote awareness, but we're also going to make sure that we have the right support in place for existing users."

During his conference-opening keynote, Zend CEO Harold Goldberg cited research from analyst firm Gartner, which found only 10 percent of the PHP community today works in corporate IT, but that number is expected to grow to 40 percent over the next five years. Goldberg himself predicted that, within the next five to ten years, most business applications will be accessible via a browser, which is good news for PHP jocks.

Goldberg also speculated on the future configuration of the open source LAMP stack, which currently comprises Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP/Python/Perl. The LAMP stack is especially well suited for Web development. The next-gen stack, he said, is going to include Windows, IBM DB2, JavaScript, Microsoft SQL Server, VMware and Dojo.

PHP (PHP Hypertext Preprocessor) is one of the most popular dynamic scripting languages. It continues to grow in popularity. TIOBE Software's Programming Community Index currently ranks PHP ahead of Ruby, Python and Perl, and just behind Visual Basic and C++, on its popularity index.

ZendCon organizers expected close to 700 attendees at this year's conference, up approximately 20 percent from last year. This year's conference featured fewer keynote presentations and more best-practices sessions. "Last year's attendees told us they wanted less talk and more content," Gutmans said. "We listened."

Zend made several announcements around its PHP tooling, platform and framework at this year's show. Among them:

  • A new collaboration with the Dojo Foundation to deliver an out-of-the-box solution for building AJAX-based Web apps with Zend Framework and Dojo Toolkit. The just-released Zend Framework 1.6 is the first version to offer this Dojo integration.
  • Zend Core for IBM's i5/OS 2.6 is now available. According to the company, this release "improves security, includes the latest Zend Framework 1.6 and includes extensions that make it easier for PHP to access native resources on the i5."
  • Zend Studio 6.1 based on Eclipse can use the Adobe Flex Builder IDE's Eclipse plug-in. Zend is planning to provide a "cookbook" on how to make these two work together.
  • The company is now shipping the 6.1 version of its Zend Studio IDE. The new version adds support for the Zend-Framework-Dojo-Toolkit integration.
  • Zend Studio IDE, which is built on the open source Eclipse PHP Development Tools (PDT) project, has been upgraded to Eclipse 3.4.
  • A new SQL Query builder that uses a graphical interface.
  • Lots of bug fixes.
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