Scripters are People Too

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By now, most of you have probably seen the news that IBM has tied up with Zend technologies, purveyors of PHP technologies. Judging from the Zend call I’m on now – there are only 6 other participants on the line – people are missing the significance of this announcement. It’s not a big deal because of any impact to IBM’s commitment to Java – I think those reactions are wildly overblown – but because it marks a recognition that the non-compiled language folks out there, the scripters, should be treated as first class citizens within the enterprise. Hats off to Rod Smith and the Emerging Technology group for pushing this through.

Anyhow, rather than having me ramble on, let’s instead do a Q&A with some of the questions I have already received or anticipate receiving shortly (yes, that means I’m Q&Aing myself):

Q: Does this mean that IBM is stepping back from Java?
A: No. Yes IBM would like for Java to be open sourced, yes they’re frustrated at times with how the JCP works, but on both counts they can join the club. Anyone working with a standards body or industry group is likely to be frustrated at times with the pace of development – that’s just the nature of how they work. Given that Java is essentially the foundation for much of the companies middleware and database business, I find suggestions that this announcement heralds an “abandonment” of Java somewhat absurd.

Q: Ok, if the announcement doesn’t mean IBM is stepping back for Java, what does it mean?
A: Many things, more than we can go into here. But most importantly, it’s a recognition that in spite of recent advances from the Java camp in ease of use, PHP is still the easier (and more popular) language for certain development tasks. Note, however, the italics in the last sentence – I don’t mean every application. Different tools for different jobs – go figure.

Q: What’s in it for IBM?
A: They gain developer goodwill both by backing an important open source project as well as acknowledging the scripters out there. On top of that they can ensure that their databases play nicely with PHP, which is more important than many realize given the popularity of the platform. It was also interesting that Andi mentioned that IBM would like to see support for their proposed Java standard, Service Data Objects, in PHP.

Q: What’s in it for Zend?
A: Visibility, obviously. Marketing and sales dollars won’t hurt either, and technically IBM’s experience can probably add much to PHP. When I asked Andi Gutmans from Zend what they were looking forward to technically from IBM, his first answer was database connectivity. The goal is to make PHP as database agnostic as possible, and tieing up with IBM certainly affords the opportunity to improve connectivity to the multitude of different data sources IBM maintains (yes, that was a bit of a cheap shot ;).

Q: What’s in it for PHP?
A: PHP is to me the big winner here. Not that IBM is going to completely revolutionize the language, or turn PHP into the answer to all development challenges. But IBM’s commitments to technologies always bring them a measure of credibility, Java and Linux being the best examples of this. Like any language, PHP can be improved technically and IBM certainly has some know how in these areas. But longer term, I think the official tap on the shoulder from IBM as a legitimate enterprise development platform will be the biggest boon to PHP.

Q: Any other thoughts on the deal?
A: I think it’s a boon for PHP developers everywhere, as it amounts to a nod to simplicity. No, PHP is not the simplest language available, no it’s not suitable for every enterprise development initiative, but I see it as an admission from one of the largest technology providers on the planet that simplicity does have a place in the enterprise.

Q: One last question – I’m a competitor to IBM, and I want to respond to this announcement without being too “me-too”-ish. Any thoughts as to how?
A: Sure: give developers what they want.

Update: Check out Don Box’ reaction here.

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