Zend Encoder Review

This week we cover the Zend Encoder, a program which allows for you to distribute encoded versions of your software, therefore protecting your intellectual property and making sure that your licenses are upheld. First we go over exactly what the encoder does and a little bit of how it works, and then I’ll move on to cover the open source alternative(s) and finally, give our humble opinion on the product.

A couple of weeks ago, Zend finally released their long awaited product line, including much needed products, such as a stable, quality Cache as well as an encoder that allows you to encrypt and distribute your code. But are these products all that they’re hyped to be? Are they worth their price tags? Over the next couple of weeks I will be offering you my reviews of the different Zend products, the Zend Launchpad, the Zend Cache, the Zend Encoder and the Zend IDE.

This week I will cover the Zend Encoder, a program which allows for you to distribute encoded versions of your software, therefore protecting your intellectual property and making sure that your licenses are upheld. First I’ll go over exactly what the encoder does and a little bit of how it works, and then I’ll move on to cover the open source alternative(s) and finally, give my humble opinion on the product.

{mospagebreak title=Overview} The Zend Encoder arises from a need for software developers to protect their intellectual property when distributing commercial software. One of PHP’s past problems was that once you gave a client your source code, it most often turned out that your intellectual property (code) was lost, because the client could view and modify and (illegally) re-distribute your source code.

This is a problem that many freelance developer’s as well as large development firms encounter. It made it nearly impossible to sell PHP software to more than one client. Luckily, it looks like the Zend’s done an excellent job with this product, meeting what I think are the market needs. The Zend encoder is the perfect solution for anybody who wants to distribute their code commercially.

{mospagebreak title=Market Needs} One of the major problems I feared when using the encoder is that it would cause a slowdown in my PHP scripts. When working on high-traffic sites, every second counts and the benefit of encoding my applications would be outweighed if the performance suffered.

Surprisingly enough, some of my programs ran faster with the Zend Encoder then without it. Most of the other applications ran at close to the same speed (some a little faster, some a little slower). And if you couple in the Zend Cache, the performance stops being an issue (as the Zend cache saves a memory imprint of your application, and no decoding is necessary).

My second fear is the strength of the encryption used. After all, what’s the use of using the Zend encoder if it doesn’t properly encode your scripts (ie, it just messes up the whitespace a bit, or moves words around).

I’ve found the Zend Encoder’s encryption to be quite satisfactory. While I really can’t verify more than the fact, that I couldn’t decrypt it. I don’t think most customers will bother figuring out how to decrypt your encoded code, the fact that its encoded is enough.

Unfortunately, one problem that does occur with the encryption is that Zend’s OP structures are not modified. Therefore if someone decided to write a program that translates an OP structure into working running PHP code. The encryption loses a lot of its value (of course the dumped output may be completely different than the original script, and will be devoid of comments). However, I don’t see that happening any time soon, because its simply too much effort for too little gain{mospagebreak title=Improvements anyone} The Zend encoder right now excels at its job, encoding PHP scripts, and I don’t see a lot of room for improvement in that regard. However, I do think that the installation process for the encoder does need to be worked on, currently it a bit too much end user work. Also something that would be nice, but not necessary, is a GUI interface to encoding scripts (click and encode).{mospagebreak title=Overall} If you’re considering distributing software, and you don’t want your customers stealing your intellectual property, the Zend encoder is a must have. Shell out the 2400 USD and buy the encoder unlimited at Zend.com

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