PHP5 is out and looks like Java

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PHP5 is out and looks like Java

Although I am a newbie to php, this may be of interest to those out there wondering where its going.. An excellent article on PHP and its future.

The first question that springs to mind is: "Does any of this look familiar to any of you?"
Upon encountering the revisions for the first time, my immediate thought was "Hang on; I thought this was PHP". To cut to the chase: It looks almost exactly like Java!


The first point to be considered is that, to genuinely extend its grasp, PHP doesn't need to move off the webserver that much. The truth of Sun's high-profile assertion that "The network is the computer", whilst much derided at the time, has become increasingly evident over the years. The current 'hype application du jour' is undoubtedly Gmail: a web-based email application. The browser is becoming increasingly important as network-application-client cast against its more tradional role as remote-document-viewer. Don't argue; The fact you're even reading this is half-proof in itself: Scoop is a content-management application.

Think of the things already possible via a browser: Games, Audio, Video, Animation, Communication, Creative and factual writing, Trade etc. Granted, it's not like you can play GTA: Vice City, or edit real-time high-resolution video yet, but is the day really that far off? It's simply a question of ease-of-use, bandwidth, economics and will. Joel Spolsky deals with this whole issue in last month's excellent article, "How Microsoft Lost the API War".

The second point is that not only is this increasingly a networked world, it's also becoming more and more of an "interpreted world"; by which I mean that many new applications are being developed in non-natively-compiled languages.

Along with PHP, Python has seen an extraordinary amount of growth in the last few years; Perl and Java are being used more than ever, and we've seen the entrance of C#, the new Visual Basic, dot Net, and the whole Common-Language-Infrastructure scenario [14]. This is partly as a direct result of the burgeoning interconnectivity of computing power (it doesn't help that all the variant operating systems and hardware are online, if they can't talk to each other in any useful way) and partly as a result of the ever-onward march of Moore's Law - we're a fair way from the limits of current chip technology yet. Of course, these drivers of change feed back upon each other to an extent.

For pretty much the first time in computing history, applications coded to a virtual machine or interpreter (there is a difference, John Udell) now run faster than they did in native form just a few years ago, and they are only going to accelerate and get more efficient over time. As somebody who actually enjoys C and C++, this both makes me a little sad and brings out a sense of slightly rebellious longing. The idea that two of my favourite languages might, in just a few short years, occupy the same niche that Assembly and Cobol do today is not a particularly comfortable thought. It's never pleasant to contemplate obsolescence, but then: That's evolution. No prisoners.

Stretching the point even further, it's not too far beyond the bounds of realistic speculation to envisage a situation where native, compiled code's only function is to act as a thin gateway to hardware (which, as ever, is the one fixed immovable); upon which the operating system itself would be both a general interpreter and, for the most part, interpreted. Whilst almost inconceivable in the current climate, this would have a dramatic effect on the business, usage and adaptability of all information technology infrastructure as we know it today.

Perhaps it is not intentional, but nevertheless it is this world that PHP is adapting to. Whether it can continue to compete in its current guise is a question only the future can answer. Like HTML, its overwhelming success has come about from its shallow learning curve and ease-of-use. Like HTML, its days are numbered unless it can evolve to be more complex. As the hacker deity in Neil Gaiman's "American Gods" pronounces: "It's all about the dominant fucking paradigm ... nothing else is important". Without really noticing and with all marketing hype cast aside for a moment, at some point in the last few years we really did cross the threshold: The next age is already here.
By netchicken: posted on 18-7-2004

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