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Microsoft digs into PHP

Software giant needs to integrate with leading Web technologies like the scripting language, if it hopes to compete effectively on the Web.

Microsoft's Open Source Technology Center used to make news by partnering with SugarCRM, MySQL, and other commercial open-source projects. Those partnerships seem to have hit a dry spell over the past two years, with little in the way of new announcements, but this doesn't mean that Microsoft's OSTC has been inactive.

Quite the contrary. As its work with the PHP community suggest, the OSTC has actually been in overdrive. In an interview with the PHP Classes blog, Microsoft gives some background as to the motivations behind its work with the scripting language:

Open-source initiatives at Microsoft are important to the open-source community because they give developers greater exposure for their products through access to a broadly adopted platform....The (open-source development and interoperability) initiatives are important because they break down barriers between proprietary and open-source developers allowing them to benefit from each other's work.

All of these points apply to the PHP community. In the past year, we've demonstrated significant performance improvements on Windows, making PHP applications more attractive to Windows customers. The (Internet Information Services) team created the FastCGI module to implement process persistence and better manage non-thread-safe applications. And the SQL Server team has created a PHP driver providing access to database services on Windows.

Microsoft engineers and contractors have made contributions to the PHP run-time engine and to PHP application projects. And communication between Microsoft; commercial open-source-based companies including Zend, OmniTI, and iBuildings; and open-source developers has broadened significantly.

In other words, both the PHP community and Microsoft benefit from this interoperability development.

However, what remains unsaid in this commentary is perhaps Microsoft's biggest benefit by tying into PHP: enhanced relevance in the Web world, in which it's trying to compete. The Web is largely built on the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Perl/Python) stack today. For Microsoft to win on the Web, it must engage PHP, however much it might want the world to beat a path to its .Net door.

In a separate but related initiative, Microsoft's Silverlight is going head-to-head with Adobe Systems' Flash with Web design developers, as The Wall Street Journal recently reported.

But that's only part of the Web battle. Web scripting languages like PHP have been heavily influential in developing the Web, and today, PHP and its clan are largely hardwired for MySQL, not Microsoft's SQL Server.

Microsoft's OSTC is helping change this by engaging the PHP community. In discussions with various Microsoft executives, I've heard that this work is not fully appreciated (yet) within Microsoft, but I suspect that Microsoft will come to significantly appreciate the work that its OSTC has been doing for it, both within the PHP community and in other open-source communities.

John Donne wrote that "no man is an island, entire of itself," and the same holds true for Microsoft. It can no longer afford to be an isolated, monolithic development ecosystem, especially as it races to catch up with the competition on the Web.