Last night Optaros hosted the Boston PHP Users group. Zend provided the pizza. Addison Wesley pitched in door prizes. IBM provided David Boloker, their CTO of Emerging Technology, who gave an excellent overview of IBM's interest and involvement in PHP. He also brought along two colleagues from his engineering team (Adam and Brian - I didn't catch their last names) who showed demos of some PHP related projects.
In his talk, David discussed the concept of "Situational Applications" where a
not-so-technical person could quickly put together an application to respond to an event or capitalize on an opportunity. The technical skill was compared to a good spreadsheet programmer back in the old days (as in Lotus 1-2-3). This analogy resonated with me as someone who used to build database reports in preparation for corporate management meetings. The concept is the same, pull together all sorts of information and crunch it in different ways for decision support. But now, the information can come from so many more sources including live data feeds.
IBM sees PHP as a key to achieve this agility in application development. PHP can serve as a malleable front end to back end systems through Web Services or RSS. The demo used to make this point was of a project called QED Wiki, which is based on WakkaWiki. In addition to being a regular Wiki, where you can add content, QED is an application development environment where you can script applications based on wiki content and external data. The demo used a scenario of a major hardware store chain and how they can create situational applications based on weather conditions (sales depend on the weather conditions. Hurricanes = tarps and plywood. Snow = shovels and salt). With a little bit of script, similar to writing spreadsheet functions, Adam was able to create a nice little application based on data from NOAA and Google Maps showing the weather conditions of different stores within the chain. I think it was a stretch when David said that a typical store manager could put something like this together, but I see the point.
The next demo was of a project to build a PHP plugin for Eclipse. As someone who has to program in a different language every other project, I have grown to depend on an IDE (Integrated Development Environment) for syntax hints. The PHP plugin, while very early (according to Holoker, our group was among the first to see it), looks very useful. It as all that you would expect: code completion, debugging, navigation.... It was unclear how this fits in with Zend Studio but Zend is collaborating on the project and has contributed its debugging technology. If I had to guess, I would say that Zend Studio will eventually be based on Eclipse and Zend will sell value-add features such as remote debugging and code deployment. The relationship between IBM and Zend was described as happy and productive with success stories like Zend Core for IBM and this Eclipse initiative.