Now, By Golly, PHP Has Got Marc Andreessen

Now it's got Marc Andreessen.
PHP used to be little known outside a small circle of open source developers. No large company advertised it or gave it top billing at computer shows. It had only the little tool-making firm that originated it, Zend Technologies Inc., as a booster.

Now it's got Marc Andreessen.Last year, Zend moved its headquarters from Israel to Cupertino, Calif. It got backing from the venture capital funds of Intel Corp. and SAP AG. It brought out special PHP tools to use with the Oracle database and IBM's DB2. And it built out PHP's capability to interact with end users through Web applications.

PHP is now used on 22 million active Web sites, surpassing all scripting language competitors, according to Netcraft. Zend is capitalizing on this strong position by naming Netscape founder Marc Andreessen to its board of directors.

In noting Andreessen's appointment, the Wall Street Journal reported Sept. 29 that it was significant because Andreessen was an early backer of Java. "PHP is to 2005 what Java was to 1995," the Journal quotes Andreessen as saying.

There's more irony than intended in such a comment.

Andreesen had more to do with establishing the scripting language, JavaScript, than Java. If anything PHP is replacing JavaScript in Web applications at a faster rate than it's replacing Java. But what's important here is not where Andreessen made his last contribution but whether he can reposition himself to perhaps make his next.

Yes, PHP is replacing Java in Web applications but it's not a full scale replacement for Java, as Andreessen implies. The enterprise infrastructure will remain highly dependent on Java for the foreseeable future.

PHP grew up on the Web and is designed to capitalize on it as a platform. It connects to the outside world more easily than Java and is scalable across many browser users. If Java backers remain intent on doing things their own way in Web services, that qualifies them for an Andreessen putdown. But considering what happened to Netscape and Javascript, it's hard to say what Andreessen's appointment will do to further the fortunes of PHP.

It appears to me that Zend had already done what it needed to do by itself.