PHP Puts Web Apps, Wikis in Users Hands

The open-source app will allow SMBs and individuals to make their own customized Web portals.

BURLINGAME, Calif.—An increasing number of next-generation business and social-networking Web applications over the next few years will be originating from their users, rather than from software companies, an IBM executive told the audience at the Zend PHP Conference and Expo Wednesday.

Not only will the applications be conceptualized by non-technical people, they will be built by them, he said.

Rod Smith, IBMs vice president of Internet emerging technology, addressed the opening session of the conference, which continues here through Friday.

A healthy number of those new Web-centric applications will be constructed using the open-source middleware programming language PHP, he said.

/zimages/1/28571.gifRead more here about upgrades to Zends PHP Web platform.

Smith told Ziff Davis Internet that IBM has been "digging in" and testing PHPs capabilities and researching ways to use it for the last three years.

PHP, which was introduced in 1999 as Personal Home Page by Zend Technologies Ltd., based in Cupertino, Calif., is already well-established in small and midsize businesses and nonprofits as a tool for creating do-it-yourself dynamic Web sites.

In the last few years, however, it has developed into a popular alternative or supplement to the Java and .Net enterprise application development platform, largely due to its relative simplicity of configuration, lack of licensing fees and ability to run on any operating system.

"As middleware has been growing and maturing on J2EE [Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition], wikis and blogs have been increasingly used by businesses and individuals on their own, using PHP. The more we saw that, the more we recognized PHP as a critical component of this new use of the Web. The content is coming from domain owners and businesses," Smith said.

Thus, these far-flung content creators need ways to make their own custom business applications—and make them quickly, Smith said. PHP, thanks to its drag-and-drop capabilities and minimal need for custom coding, allows for rapid application development and deployment, he said.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read about security issues with PHP.

"Part of what [developers] do now in three days, they should be able to do in a few hours," Smith said. "PHP allows for an entirely new software paradigm—one that enables quickly built applications that can serve for a short time, if necessary, and then be discarded or redesigned. There is a growing need for this kind of development."

Stu Nicholas, a member of Smiths work group at IBM, offered a demonstration of what Smith called an "application wiki" built with PHP, a project that is still under internal testing at IBM but holds great promise, Smith said.

In the demonstration, Nicholas opened a wiki page for a fictional business, then dragged and dropped various Web services into it—services such as dynamic weather reports based on an RSS stream, a standard inventory-listing CRM (customer resource management) application, a listing of company locations and personnel, and Googles geographical maps.

After a few minutes of configuration, Nicholas had four Web services up and running on the wiki. The wiki took the form of a Web portal, with four separate elements making up that particular page.

"Lets say this is a company that depends greatly upon the weather for delivering its products," Nicholas said. "Using this wiki, every location in the company can know what the product inventory looks like in real time, and what the weather is like at any other location. The head office can know where all its products are in the delivery channel, and how the weather is going to affect delivery at any given time.

"And the wiki can be updated by anybody at any time within the company, keeping everything up to date. How valuable can that be to a company?" Nicholas said.

Other possible Web services that can be added to such an "application wiki" include messaging, e-mail, photo services such as Flickr or iFoto, music and audio applications such as iTunes, and collaboration services such as MySpace and other peer-to-peer sites.

Since PHP is open source, the code is immediately available at any time.

"This [application wiki] is all internal to IBM right now; we havent even had a chance to show it yet to one particular company who asked about this," Smith said. "But I think a lot of other people might be interested in hearing about this."

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Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...