While the two companies have been working together for the past six months, they only recently entered into a multiphase, multiyear technical collaboration agreement.
That agreement will initially focus on improving the reliability and performance of PHP on Windows Server, Bill Hilf, Microsofts general manager for platform technology strategy, in Redmond, Wash., told eWEEK
As part of that process, Microsoft is developing a fast CGI (Common Gateway Interface) for IIS (Internet Information Services) so PHP will perform far better on Windows Server. That component will be released as a free download, he said.
The two companies are also working on a series of ways to optimize PHP on Windows, which will be contributed through the PHP community, as well as on best practices and architectural guidance for those building and administering PHP on Windows.
"Lastly, a Windows reliability and testing center is being established at Zend, and we will be listening to the PHP community and developers to understand what the problems are and then going out and helping solve them," Hilf said, adding that this would also be the place where upcoming product releases from both companies would be tested for compatibility.
This latest agreement is part of Microsofts drive to make its products more interoperable with open-source software, and to be more actively involved and supportive of open source.
"We continue to work hard to expand interoperability and to support and participate in open source in a bigger way. This is one of the biggest steps we have taken in that regard," Hilf said.
These public statements of support for open source follow a commitment by Bob Muglia, the senior vice president of Microsofts server and tools business, to reach out to the open-source community to try to find ways to overcome the incompatibilities between software distributed under the GNU General Public License and Microsofts commercial software.
For his part, Andi Gutmans, the co-founder and chief technology officer at Zend, in Cupertino, Calif., told eWEEK that his company wanted PHP to be a "first-class citizen on every platform," and it had become obvious that PHP on Windows was lacking in performance and reliability.
PHP has a community of about 4.5 million developers, with about 75 percent of Zend customers developing on the Windows platform. "Both Zend and Microsoft have been hearing from customers that they want a more reliable PHP on Windows, so this is a way for us both to answer customer demand and needs and is a very important step for us," Gutmans said.
At the Zend/PHP Conference & Expo being held in San Jose, Calif., the week of Oct. 30, Microsoft and Zend will demonstrate how the changes the two firms have already made have boosted the performance of PHP on Windows, he said.
"We have made a significant number of changes to PHP so it can better run on Windows, and in our internal testing we have been getting performance improvements of between two and three times on the Windows platform. All of these changes will also be given back to the PHP community under the PHP license," Gutmans said.
He said Zend also intends to use the improved technology in its Zend Core product line, starting in the first quarter of 2007. A technology preview of the updated Windows version of Zend Core is already available.
"There are, of course, still more changes to come, but the most significant ones are already in there," Gutmans said.
Microsoft will demonstrate what PHP on Windows looked like, and how it performed, in the past compared with how it looks when some of the new capabilities are added, Hilf said, adding that the fast CGI component developed by Microsofts IIS team will be part of that.
The two firms will also work to ensure a production-quality PHP run-time environment for IIS 6 (Windows Server 2003) and IIS 7 (Windows Server "Longhorn.")
Asked if Microsoft was endorsing this as an alternative run-time to .Net, Hilf said that was not the case and that work with PHP did not indicate a change in strategy from .Net or an alternative run-time as "it is still running in IIS and is still part of the IIS process. So there is nothing alternative about it," he said.
Hilf said Microsoft also thought about PHP much the way it did about Java and JBoss, the only difference being that Java already had an existing Virtual Machine and run-time that was comparable to .Net.
"But PHP can run very effectively within IIS, so they are different in that way. People are also choosing PHP over Java because of its ease of use and the fact that it does not have the overhead that Java does," Hilf said.
"There is a still 100 percent commitment from Microsoft to .Net and ASP.Net, and we continue to build new technologies in the .Net 2.0 framework. Thats still our strategy," he said, adding that Microsoft wanted those customers who used and developed on both PHP and Windows to have a good experience on that platform.
But Peter Yared, the co-founder and CEO of San Francisco-based ActiveGrid, which provides an SOA (service-oriented architecture) platform built on the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP/Python/Perl) software infrastructure stack, said that while supporting the PHP run-time may not be an alternative to IIS, it is clearly an alternative to the .Net run-time (Common Language Runtime) that is now supported by Microsoft.
"I also need to point out that people are choosing PHP over .Net for the same reasons they are choosing PHP over Java: because of its ease of use and the fact that it does not have the overhead," he said.
With regard to criticisms that the CLR did not support dynamic languages well, Hilf said there were a number of initiatives underway within the .Net group to push the CLR envelope "and dynamic languages is a big component of that."
Microsoft supported a project known as Phalanger, a PHP language compiler that allows the execution of PHP script on the .Net Framework. With Phalanger, PHP developers can program within Visual Studio 2003, deploy existing PHP code on an ASP.Net 1.1 Web server and develop cross-platform extensions, he said.
From Zends perspective, Gutmans said the company remained committed to the open-source version of PHP as the mainstream version, adding that all the work that was being done with Microsoft was to make that version run well on the Windows platform.
While Microsoft had invited the PHP team to come to the campus a few years ago to work to optimize PHP on Windows, and some headway had been made, due to a lack of developer and production partner support at that time, nothing had happened on that front in the interim and things had deteriorated, Gutmans said.
"But the work we have done over the past six months is the most serious work we have done on this platform," he said.