End-user programming in five minutes or less

Rod Smith, IBM's VP of Internet emerging technologies, chuckles at the phrase “end-user programming,” a term he says has been overhyped and overpromised. And yet, IBM's new PHP-based QEDWiki project (“quick and easily done wiki”) is focused on that very concept. QEDWiki is an IDE and framework designed to allow non-technical end users to develop so-called situational apps in less than five minutes.

“From our viewpoint, this is about how you empower more people around linking applications and information together,” Smith says. “It's about how I enable the domain professional, as opposed to the engineering professional. And PHP does this very well.”

Smith was set to demo QEDWiki at last week's PHP/Tek 2006 Conference in Orlando. The project is just one example, he says, of IBM's ongoing efforts to further the PHP standard.

PHP (PHP Hypertext Preprocessor) is one of the most popular open-source, server-side scripting languages; it’s one of the “Ps” in the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP/Python/Perl). Since it was introduced in 1997, PHP has made serious inroads into the enterprise. A recent Netcraft survey found that PHP usage has grown from 100,000 domains/Web sites in January 2000 to more than 21 million as of March 2006. PHP was also ranked the fourth-most-popular programming language by the TIOBE Programming Community Index. The latest version of PHP, 5.1.2, was released in January.

IBM has been involved with PHP in various ways for nearly two years. Last February, the company partnered with Zend Technologies to create a database-tools bundle called Zend Core. Zend is a PHP toolmaker whose founders—CEO Doron Gerstel, Andi Gutmans and Zeev Suraski—created PHP. The QEDWiki framework sits on top of the LAMP stack and the Zend framework.

The key factor driving the adoption of PHP, says Andi Gutmans, is its ease of use. “Anyone who has developed in any language before is going to be able to write his PHP first script in a day, become a developer within a week and an expert within a month,” he says.

IBM's support of PHP grows out of its service-oriented architecture and Web 2.0 strategy, Smith says. Basically, the idea is that corporations adopting SOAs should borrow the notions of simplicity and collaboration from Web 2.0.

“This is about where Web 2.0 is going,” Smith says. “It's about this idea of collaboration on the Web, of making it more programmable for end users. And it's about being able to create something of value and interest, fast.”

Another term that is emerging here is “enterprise mashup,” Smith says. Named for the hip-hop practice of mixing song samples, mashups are Web apps that mix information from different sources.

“Enterprise customers are asking, If the open-source people can go off to a mashup camp and learn to create something of value and interest in two days, why can't my people do that internally?” Smith says. “That line of thinking is triggering a lot of enterprises to stop and say, ‘Okay, tell me more about Web 2.0. I know it's mostly hype, but can you show me how to create these mashups?’”

Smith's own team at IBM may have proved the value of the concept in a real-world project. Last year, the group helped the State of Louisiana set up a “Jobs for Recovery” Web site in the aftermath Hurricane Katrina. The biggest challenge in the project, Smith says, was that it had to be completed in two weeks.

“Three quarters of the way through the two-week project,” Smith recalls, “jobs were becoming available, but you couldn't find housing. So they wanted a Google map on the page—a mashup—so that the people could see where the jobs were.” By leveraging the ease-of-use capabilities of PHP, Smith says, his team got the site up on time—with both a Google Maps and Google Earth feature.

QEDWiki is not yet widely available, but IBM is testing it with its corporate customers. If the PHP community shows an interest, IBM may open source the technology, as it did the Eclipse framework. IBM expects to release the QEDWiki software on its emerging technology Alphaworks Web site sometime this year, Smith says.

About the Author

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