Microsoft and Zend Collaborate to Improve PHP on Windows

Microsoft and Zend Technologies are joining forces to improve the performance of PHP-based applications running on Windows Server 2003, the two companies disclosed on Tuesday. The Redmond software giant and the Cupertino, Calif. provider of products and services for the open-source PHP scripting language are embarking on this technical collaboration "to provide customers with richer functionality and better integration" of PHP on Windows.

The two companies expect to extend the collaboration to the next version of Windows Server, code-named "Longhorn." And they plan to contribute any enhancements resulting from the collaboration to the PHP community under the open-source PHP license.

Microsoft and Zend executives made the announcement during the opening keynote presentations at the Zend/PHP Conference & Expo, underway this week in San Jose, CA (Oct 30 - Nov 2). Andi Gutmans, Zend co-founder and vice president of technology, told attendees that his company plans to incorporate any technology improvements generated by the collaboration into the Zend Core product line, beginning in the first quarter of 2007. The company will do the same for its Zend Platform product line, he said. A technology preview of an updated Windows version of Zend Core is available today at the Zend website.

Bill Hilf, general manager of Microsoft's technical platform strategy group, was at the conference for the announcement. A self-described "open source guy working at Microsoft," Hilf manages the company's open-source strategy.

"We certainly are very aware of PHP, and have been for a long time," Hilf told conference attendees. "And we've always seen the same problem: Lots of people developing on PHP, but running into problems when they tried to deploy PHP to Windows. We finally said, let's fix some of the fundamental performance and reliability issues, so that when people want to deploy to Windows, it isn't such a challenge."

The collaboration actually started seven months ago, Hilf said. He and Bill Staples from Microsoft's IIS team demoed one early result of that collaboration: a FastCGI component that acts as an interface between IIS and PHP.

"Over the past few years my team has been working very hard to work with the open-source community... to expand our interoperability story and our ecosystem support for open source," Hilf said. "But the most important thing about this announcement is that it's not just a marketing message. We're showing you our work today."

FastCGI is a variation on the earlier Common Gateway Interface (CGI); Microsoft IIS (Internet Information Services) is one of the most widely used Web servers, second only to the Apache Web server in numbers of websites, according to Internet monitoring company Netcraft. The new FastCGI PHP component demoed at the show is available now as a free download.


Staples has posted a step-by-step guide to getting PHP working on IIS7 on his blog.

During a post-keynote Q&A, Hilf was asked about the open-source community's perception of Microsoft's growing involvement in open-source software, given the company's history of dismissing and disparaging OSS over the years. "It's a question that comes up a lot," Hilf admitted. "I often call it the gum stuck on the bottom of my shoe... What I say is, judge us by our actions, not our words. Judge us by what we produce and the things we do. That's the only way that we will gain credibility in the open source community."

He added that the overall commercialization trend around open source has "helped that conversation to be less emotional." It's impossible, he said, even to talk with someone who believes that all software should be free and that "Microsoft's existence is a blight on the world."

In response to that statement, Zend co-founder Gutmans said that people should remember that there is no single, monolithic open-source community. "I don't think there's an open-source community," he said. "There are different streams. Parts of the community tend to be very pragmatic, to focus on building things like commercial websites. There are other parts of this community that are maybe more idealistic about what they are doing. In the PHP community, I think Microsoft will be very well received, because there are a lot of PHP developers actually using Windows."

Zend is a leading contributor to the development of the core PHP language. The company’s founders, Gutmans and Zeev Suraski, are the designers of the Zend Engine (the name is a blend of “Zeev” and “Andi”), on which all PHP sites and applications are now run.

PHP (PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor) is one of the most popular open-source, server-side scripting languages; it’s one of the “P’s” in the open source LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP/Python/Perl). PHP 5.1.6 may be downloaded from the PHP project Website.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].