PHP started 2008 out on a roaring positive note. With adoption of PHP 4 finally dropping off to barely perceptible levels (apart from the occasional user complaining about how great things were in the good ole’ days and why do we have to change and – hey, get off my lawn you punk kids), PHP 5 had truly joined the big leagues, and the main complaint about the language shifted from it being be a quirky language with horrific (potential) security holes like register globals and klunky
HTTP_POST_VAR arrays to it being a quirky language with crappy Unicode support. Talk about PHP 6, already quite vocal in the second half of 2007, was reaching a fever pitch, and some overly zealous people even started publishing books based on only some white-papers and vague ideas of what it would look like.
Along came March, however, and PHP 6 was nowhere to be seen. At conferences, questions from attendees and developers about rough guestimates for a final release dates were met with awkward coughs, sideways glances, and the inevitable “it will ship when it’s ready” response. When asked what they were working on, many people pointed out how focused they were on PHP 5.3 and near-term releases.
In fact, the more you looked, the farther and farther PHP 6 seemed to get, and the community suddenly got very quiet. As summer rolled around, much of the mindshare and energy seemed to be switching to framework development, as companies such as Zend realised they weren’t going to make money selling PHP and related IDEs alone, and other big name developers found themselves having to work to make money. News on the PHP website was hard to come by and limited largely to conference announcements.
While the rest of the web development community started to get excited about developments in new and exciting languages such as Ruby, Erlang, or even Python, PHP was starting to feel decidedly stale and old. The blogosphere went on one of its periodic “PHP sucks” campaigns, and loyalists found themselves on the defensive, trying to explain the whole needle-haystack / haystack-needle thing again and again. Late in the summer, a pretty alert colleague with whom I develop sites even commented that “PHP’s dying. It might be time to look at other options.” Throw in a non-trivial amount of bad press that MySQL seemed to be receiving after its merger with Sun Microsystems along with the latter’s subsequent mismanagement of employees and community, and it was beginning to look like time to worry about people jumping off the PHP/MySQL platform ship.
As the year grew old, however, and PHP 6 looked like a depressing myth, something interesting happened: PHP 5.3 started to gel together and enter alpha-release. Many features that had originally been planned for version 6 had been pushed forward into this release, including namespaces (including the much-derieded \ syntax), some international support, and some better math functionality.
Indeed, many of the non-vague or extremely optimistic features of PHP 6 will be showing up in this release, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see PHP 6 completely rebooted as a new branch and new project based on the current 5.3 line. Looking more closely, you’ll see that there were many of the same people this year quietly working behind the scenes on the project, developing and adding new features, and advocating in favour of the platform. People are still developing for PHP in huge numbers, and the language’s sheer productivity and ease of use make a compelling argument even in the face of sexier or more innovative-seeming languages.
With the arrival of 2009, and the pending release of PHP 5.3, one can feel the excitement in the air. With namespaces, closures, and continually improving i18n support (which is already workable, if not optimal), there is no reason to doubt that PHP will continue to be a dominant platform for years to come. Rest assured the language isn’t dead or dying. It just took a breather for a few months.
Happy 2009 to everybody, whatever platform you use![Read Rest of Article]