New PHP Release, Impending Casualties for Open Source?

The good news: The PHP Group has introduced the first beta of the PHP 4.0 Web Scripting Language with tons of performance enhancements, downward compatibility and long-awaited features. The bad news: Too many open source projects are neglecting crucial elements like documentation and marketing. The open source vs. Microsoft wars are far from over, and I’m beginning to see signs of shake-outs between open source communities. Start thinking like a business or prepare for casualties.

The PHP Group just released the first public beta of PHP 4.0. The new release boasts “drastic improvements in every aspect – performance and scalability, features, platform support and extendibility.” My hat is off to the developers for (mostly) keeping 100% downward-compatibility with version 3! We’re still finding orphan PHP/FI 2 scripts lurking on some of our servers. Yuck.

Among the improvements listed in the announcement included the integration of the high-speed Zend Engine by Andi Gutmans and Zeev Suraski. Check out the list of Zend-enhanced features here. PHP 4.0 promises to be much easier to port to new web servers, and beta 1 already supports Microsoft IIS. Session tracking (ala phplib) is now included natively, and dynamically loadable module support has been greatly enhanced.

Want to help get PHP 4.0 released fast? Get the beta, put it through its paces, and join the PHP 4.0 mailing list at PHP.NET.

Mod_PHP is also now an official Apache Software Foundation project.

A Few Comments on Open Source Web Tools

In recent weeks, readers have recommended some of their favorite open source web tools for review. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the number and quality of scripting engines, databases and other tools freely available on the net. However, I’m concerned about some of the attitudes I’ve run across in the product development groups. Talented programmers no longer play the only crucial role of producing successful open source technologies. These projects need to be run more like businesses, or they will fail.

Some Open Source projects are becoming popular, successful businesses. Apache and RedHat are prime examples. Zope and Roxen Challenger are also run by for-profit businesses. These businesses are developing marketing, financing, partnership and documentation resources critical to the success of their projects. They intend to not only compete for Microsoft’s users, but for Apache’s as well.

“Project leaders” from other mature, innovative open source projects seem to believe business models and customer service are not necessary. More than one has told me “We love to program. We hate to write. So, we don’t have any documentation. Follow along with the list for long enough and you’ll catch on.”

Come on! No documentation? If you don’t want to write, find someone who does. You can even run the documentation like the programming project and let the community fill in the holes. Look at PHP’s Annotated Manual. Documentation is only a first step in producing successful software. I’ll get to the other aspects at a later time.

It won’t be long before the wars aren’t just going to be Microsoft Vs. Open Source. There will be Open Source vs. Open Source wars in abundance. To succeed, attracting fresh talent and users will be cruical. Only the savvy will thrive.

What do you think? Am I too brainwashed by “corporate culture”? Sound off below.

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