The Future of Zend

Last week, Zeev Suraski, Matthew Weier O'Phinney, Enrico Zimuel and Dmitry Stogov, all well-known members of the international PHP community, announced that they will leave Zend, which has been part of Rogue Wave since 2015.

The stated reason is Rogue Wave's strategic decision to focus on the development of Zend Server. If you read between the lines, this implies that Rogue Wave is not going to continue or support the development of the Zend Engine (the core of PHP responsible for compiling and executing code), their IDE Zend Studio, and Zend Framework.

Of course, it is perfectly valid to make money off an Open Source project. This, however, implies at least a moral obligation to give back to said project. Rogue Wave, it seems, will now terminate the symbiotic relationship between PHP and Zend.

Lip Service is not enough

When somebody is willing to take money from paying customers, but in return is not willing to participate in the development of the underlying free solution, they have fundamentally not understood the basic economics of the "free software" business model. Having Arturo Suarez, a director of product management, quickly publish a statement emphasizing the commitment to Zend's product portfolio and the PHP community in general, does not dispel any doubt that this is just a lip service.

Two years ago, Rogue Wave has silently ceased further development of Zend Guard, a source code encryption tool, by just not releasing a version that is compatible with PHP 7. The official marketing channels of Rogue Wave, however, show no sign of information about this. Why would anybody tell paying customers that they are facing a dead end?

I suspect that not many will shed a tear over Zend Studio. This IDE has never been the first choice among PHP developers, and has even struggled to support current PHP versions in the recent past. JetBrains' product PHPStorm is far superior, and it clearly dominates the PHP IDE market. Every competitor is lagging far behind its rich feature set.

Downsizing or Closeout?

A while ago, one might have viewed the downsizing efforts around Zend's portfolio as a systematic strategic focus. Now, it is being unmasked as a closeout. A few months after Rogue Wave had acquired Zend, co-founder and CEO Andi Gutmans had already left the company to work for Amazon. CTO Zeev Suraski, now also designated to jump ship, was the last person in the company that had originally set out to start transforming PHP, originally created by Rasmus Lerdorf, from being a hobby project to establishing it as an important backbone of the World Wide Web.

So what do the recent events mean for the programming language PHP and its ecosystem, particularly the Zend Framework, which has always been a focal entry point into Zend's products and services? Is this the beginning of the end of PHP? Hardly likely.

The question of how much of a driving force to the PHP project Zend really was in recent years is definitely not beyond controversy. Nevertheless, there are definitely contributions, and even some important ones, that Zend has made to PHP. Most of this work can probably be attributed to Dmitry Stogov, who has been paid by Zend to work on PHP. But a large number of PHP contributors are independent, and they make up for the larger part of contributions.

Open Source software is capable of survival

Open Source software has survived, time and again. As PHP is released under a BSD-style license, any group of independent developers can, at any point in time, take on further development, potentially in the form of a fork. In the worst case, Rogue Wave could assert their rights on the term Zend. In that case, the developer community would probably just get rid of the name "Zend Engine" for the compiling and executing core of PHP.

PHP's center of gravity has been outside Zend or Rogue Wave for quite some time. Even the mighty Facebook with their innovative alternative runtime HipHop Virtual Machine (HHVM) and the Hack programming language, which are a de-facto fork of PHP, has not split the PHP community. While most important PHP projects supported HHVM initially, they gradually dropped this support again. In turn, Facebook chose not to keep HHVM and Hack compatible with PHP any more, so both projects will go separate ways in the future.

Further development seems secured

As Zend Framework is also released under a BSD-style license, its further development, even independent from Rogue Wave, seems secured, especially given the fact that project lead Matthew Weier O'Phinney is well respected in the PHP community. Even though Europe is rather Symfony-centric, and despite the fact that Laravel seems to be a common choice for new projects started in the US, there are quite a few companies and projects that are based on Zend Framework. Magento is a well-known example.

It should therefore not be a problem to find funding for the further development of Zend Framework. A free and independent developer spirit might be beneficial for the project, especially given the fact that in recent years the self-proclaimed goal of rolling a major release roughly every two years has not really worked out. In fact, most options seem more promising than sparse funding of development by Rogue Wave that is viewed as just another cost center.

Given recent events, however, we may reckon that an increasing number of companies and developers will assess Zend Framework as not overly future-proof, and look into alternatives for their new projects. Consequently, there will not be a lot of demand for further development. Indeed, Zend Framework would not be the first Open Source software project most people have bid their farewell to, only to see the project rise again to new heights, like a phoenix from the ashes.

About the author

Stefan Priebsch
Stefan Priebsch
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