Microsoft Wants Speed Advantage With Open Source PHP

Microsoft has formed a technical partnership with Zend Technologies to optimize its open source scripting language, PHP, to work better with Windows Information Server.
Microsoft is now in a technical partnership with Zend Technologies, an open source scripting language company it once viewed as a competitor.

Microsoft has been working with Zend to get Zend's PHP open source scripting language to run faster on its Web server. Windows Information Server has been Microsoft's prime platform for its own high-performance language, Active Server Pages. But with Web sites frequently including non-Microsoft technologies, Windows Information Server was handicapped when developers were working with PHP.

PHP is now the leading scripting language on the Web with 3.5 million users, as measured by Evans Data Corp. in an annual poll of developers. It's heavily used on Unix and Linux sites for its speed in linking Web servers to outside resources such as databases, and for tying together other disparate elements of a Web site. In some cases, it's been cited as a replacement for Java. More often than not, sites relying on PHP turned to the open source Apache Web server and Linux rather than Microsoft's Windows Information Server and the Windows operating system because of the performance advantage.

Microsoft and Zend Technologies have agreed to erase that advantage. "Zend will optimize PHP for Windows operation," says Andi Gutmans, Zend co-founder and VP of technology.

Until today, PHP interacted with Windows through the POSIX set of APIs, which added a layer of translation to reach Windows APIs. With PHP able to recognize Windows APIs directly, PHP programs running on Windows will be "twice as fast after the improvements. When it comes to content management, it may be three times as fast," says Gutmans.

Facebook, Flickr, and Yahoo are all heavy PHP users, he noted. "Seventy-five percent of Web 2.0 sites are powered by PHP," he claims.

Netcraft, the Web metrics firm in England, says Microsoft's Information Server has been showing gains this year versus the dominant Apache Web server. Apache once ran two-thirds of 98 million active Web sites surveyed by Netcraft. Now it's down to 61.4%, and Information Server has risen from the low 20s to 31.4%.

Netcraft says Information Server's rise reflects Microsoft's heavy investment in free blogging services at Windows Live Spaces, which added 1.3 million users in September, compared to 459,000 at Google Blogger, Google's free service.

Bill Hilf, Microsoft general manager of platform strategy, says the two companies are making PHP a first-class citizen on the Windows platform. Microsoft is supporting FastCGI, a standard that allows connecting multiple PHP processes to a multithreaded operating system such as Windows 2003 or the upcoming 2007 Windows Longhorn Server. That combination allows PHP and Windows to accomplish more work than simply executing a single PHP process at a time, Hilf says.

Gutmans says Zend's adaptation of PHP for Windows will be released as open source code. It's available for download and evaluation in beta form from Zend's Web site,, with general availability slated for January.

Microsoft will continue to develop Active Server Pages, Hilf says. But the handwriting is on the wall. "There's a huge PHP [developer] community out there. Zend and Microsoft have a lot of shared customers," he says.

In October 2003, Netcraft reported that PHP had drawn even with Microsoft's Active Server Pages in usage on the Internet.