Business

Zend founders talk about the right way to sponsor an open-source language

php elephant
Image Credit: drewm

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — As PHP developer conference ZendCon rolls on, VentureBeat sat down with Zend founders Zeev Suraski and Andi Gutmans to talk a bit about the company’s history and PHP’s place in the modern web.

PHP is the language behind both WordPress and Facebook, two services that account for a huge swath of the Internet’s daily traffic load. And devs are using it for mobile programming, too.

Zend and its founding team have been part of PHP since the project’s earliest days. As Zend (the corporation) has grown in tandem with PHP (the open-source technology), Gutmans and Suraski both said it’s been a delicate task to balance their business with their desire and need to make PHP the best it can be.

Here’s our interview with the duo:


VentureBeat: How early were you two involved with the PHP project?

Suraski: I’ve worked on PHP since ’97, and we founded Zend in ’99. At the time, PHP was growing at a remarkable pace — so remarkable that we found it hard to believe. We questioned the data!

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The premise was, as PHP was just starting to mature and companies were beginning to use it, that unlike hobbyists, they had requirements and expectations that PHP just didn’t meet. We wanted to create a solution for those companies to use PHP and, at the same time, promote PHP as an open-source community.

VentureBeat: There are many ways to monetize on open-source. Looking at entities like Red Hat, Joyent, and WordPress, how would you say Zend’s approach is different?

Gutmans: There’s a fine balance between what we ship and the open-source language. We love the open-source distribution model; it’s a great way to proliferate. On the other side, though, to really drive open-source into enterprise, you need to have companies that are able to support it. For us, there’s a balance between PHP and what we can put onto PHP — anything that is core and promotes proliferation goes to the open-source side. Business-critical features are what we use to monetize.

What we’ve done well as a company over those years is we’ve consistently helped PHP evolve. You constantly have to work on the next thing and maintain relevance. Others might focus on commoditizing and simply existing. We just wanted to create the best platform.

VentureBeat: Since then, PHP has rapidly become a huge part of the web and some very large corporations in a way that other new technologies have struggled to do.

Suraski: Back in 2005 and 2006, we started working with IBM, with Microsoft. Today, it’s obvious that those companies would have PHP support, but back then, it wasn’t obvious at all. To have these companies endorse PHP, eight or nine years ago, this made a huge difference in the adoption of PHP, especially higher up in large organizations.

VentureBeat: So now, PHP is considered a fairly mature technology, and young developers have other options that are newer and more exciting. Zuckerberg chose PHP to build Facebook; why should the next Zuck choose PHP, as well?

Gutmans: It’s already very mature, it has a large community. And it’s really good as a ‘glue’ language for bringing together different elements and assets. The ecosystem is the broadest open-source ecosystem that exists. And the hosting providers, PHP has always been at the top of every platform. When it comes to web and mobile, it’s more foolproof in how it scales, and the best practices are very well established.

Suraski: It’s fair to say that you don’t really have any other solutions out there that are deployed at such high scale in so many different companies. Facebook, Yahoo, so many huge websites — it’s not just one company that demonstrated it could be done. When the next MZ creates the next huge website, there’s no question that it can scale on PHP.

VentureBeat: What’s the best way to learn PHP?

Gutmans: Download Drupal or WordPress. It can be a good experience with getting a web server set up and getting familiar with the whole environment. You don’t have to do everything from scratch. There’s a lot of great content and training courses to get started.

Suraski: Today, in the last few years, framework-based development is a lot more common. Once you do establish the basics, if you actually choose a good framework, then you can use that to do away with a lot of the complexity we used to have to deal with. In general, I like downloading an open-source app, a smaller app, or developing a plugin for an existing application.


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