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Review: Take Your PHP Web Pages Pro with the Zend IDE

As Zend prepares to release version 4 of its PHP IDE, Zend Studio, we check in to see if this RAD tool is ready to meet the needs of serious enterprises that are building out their Web application infrastructure on the low-cost LAMP platform.

espite its similarity to ASP, PHP is rapidly becoming the language of choice for Web development. Its simplicity, power, and widespread support are all factors that have influenced an increasing user base. In fact, with the evolution of ASP to ASP.NET and the relative lack of public, low-cost servers that support the .NET platform, many are making the choice to migrate, not from ASP to ASP.NET, but from ASP to PHP.

In addition, people who just want to server-side script their Web sites have reasons to resist the move from Visual Interdev (ASP's previous development environment) to Visual Studio.NET as overkill. As a result of their desire to keep things simple, more and more are moving to the cheaper, less revolutionary alternative. But not every Webmaster of every PHP-based site wants to eschew a full-featured development environment.

What PHP has lacked, until now, is a viable, enterprise-class development platform. Zend is attempting to change all that with the latest version of its IDE, Zend Studio Version 4. Zend is a firm supporter and believer in PHP, having been both a creator of PHP and an ongoing innovator.

This review is based on the beta of version 4, which has just been released and is available for download from zend.com. According to company officials, Zend will ship the finished product on February 10, 2005.

Getting Started
Installation of the software is a piece of cake. It has a very friendly installer that is helpful to novices and experts alike. It does all the heavy lifting of installing PHP for you and integrates it with your Web server. It downloads the Zend server and installs it for you with very little interruption. It's efficient, it's quick, and I tried several different combinations of the custom options, such as trying it with different Web servers—all of them worked beautifully.

Figure 1. Raring to Go: The Zend IDE has everything you'd expect from an IDE.
With your installation complete, you can launch the studio. Figure 1 shows the IDE's fresh, default interface. If you owned a previous version, you can automatically import your configuration. The first time I ran it on Windows XP SP2, the XP application firewall seemed to make it lock up. Subsequent times it loaded and launched in a snap. On my test machine, a 1.5Ghz laptop running 1.5GB of memory, it took only 3 seconds to launch.

Everything you'd expect from an IDE is here, including a Code window, an integrated debugger, call stack, watch monitor, etc. The Zend IDE also boasts integration with the file system, various inspectors, and the holy grail of IDEs: database integration.

Once upon a time, database integration was a nice-to-have, or a distinguishing feature of an IDE. Nowadays, no IDE worth its salt can be without it. But what matters most about this feature is the level of integration it offers and the tool's capacity for helping developers solve problems faster and write more stable programs.

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