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Andreessen Sets Sights on PHP

UPDATED: Internet visionary Marc Andreessen has taken an interest in PHP , an open source programming language some consider a threat to languages, such as Java and Microsoft's Active Server Pages and .NET.

The Netscape co-founder along with Informatica Founder Gaurav Dhillon joined the board of directors at Zend Technologies, the top provider of PHP software, services and technical support. The company's two co-creators are the authors of PHP 3, which is what all subsequent versions are based on.

The fact that heavy-hitting technologists like Andreessen and Dillon are backing Zend is a testament to the language and the company building its business on it.

Originally known as Personal Home Page and now called HyperText Preprocessor, PHP can be embedded into HTML to create Web pages. It allows information to be added to a Web page on the fly from a database rather than having to rewrite every page with the addition of new information.

The language is considered to be more nimble than alternative languages, which is why it has been used to foster more than 22 million Web sites. Web experts who prefer PHP say it provides a more efficient way of crafting a Web storefront than Java, which is a more complex language used for high-end Web systems for trading firms or banks.

That detail and the fact that anyone can use it under an open source license -- where it can be freely modified -- makes it a threat to Java, ASP and .NET, according to industry experts.

Competitive threats to major software makers aside, deals between Zend and Java purveyors, such as IBM and Oracle, underscore PHP's value. The companies have integrated their database platforms with the Zend product line to create PHP development and production environments.

Forrester Research analyst Randy Heffner said he and his team are seeing more attention paid to scripting languages, such as PHP, Python and Ruby, of late.

"The ecosystems around them are not as broad as Java and .NET, and it is not clear that it will grow to be as broad, but there are lighter-weight application scenarios where enterprises are finding good use for them," Heffner said.

He noted that the "poster child" of late for PHP is Yahoo, which is migrating much of the front end features of its site to PHP.

"About a third of large enterprises (20k+ employees) are using scripting languages in some form -- but I expect the number using scripting for mission-critical apps would be much lower," Heffner concluded.

"The open source community has grown from a grass-roots movement into a formidable presence delivering business critical enterprise solutions and is providing increasingly more viable alternatives to products from some of the world's largest software vendors," said Zend CEO Doron Gerstel in a statement.

He also said the talent and industry knowledge Andreessen and Dillon will bring to the table will take Zend to new heights.

Some credit Andreessen with sparking the move to the Internet after he launched the Mosaic browser while at the University of Illinois. He later co-founded Netscape Communications and served as CTO of AOL when the company purchased Netscape in 1999.

Andreessen left to found LoudCloud, which later changed its name to Opsware and built its strategy around data center automation software. He is currently chairman and co-founder of Opsware.

Dhillon is the founder and current CEO of jaman.com. Prior to jaman.com, he spent over a decade as the CEO of Informatica, which he co-founded in 1993.