So far, we’ve talked only about Zend and its family of products. But is that all there is? The answer is “no,” and this month we’ll look at what BCD Software has to offer if you’re dabbling in PHP.
I know, I know. Last time we talked I promised to continue on with the debug, but by now you know that my attention wanders. To be perfectly honest, I run Zend Studio on a Mac, and there seem to be one or two issues with the most recent update to Studio for that platform. Shouldn’t take long to resolve, but I need to write an article now, so let’s talk about something else until I get clear.
What we’ll do today is look at what another provider, BCD Software, brings to the PHP banquet on the IBM i—namely, the WebSmart suite of products.
Contrary to what I may have led you to believe so far, Zend is not the only game in town when it comes to PHP. True, they’re the big dog so to speak, but there are some other companies that bring real value to PHP on the i, and BCD is one of these.
The base PHP-oriented product for BCD is called WebSmart, and it consists of two components.
The result is a product that allows you to develop your own scripts from scratch, but if you’re not quite ready for that, it allows you to use fully customizable templates to give you a leg up.
Of course, one of the first things you’re wondering is, what is the cost? And that’s something I can’t tell you. It’s not that I’m rude; I just don’t know. And yes, I did ask, but BCD would prefer to pass along that kind of information to you directly. What I do know is that pricing is by the seat and extends anywhere from the two-seat minimum to an unlimited-seat option.
Fortunately, BCD offers a free 30-day trial so that you can get a feel for the product before you invest. Unlike Zend, however, there’s no “free” ongoing license option. That makes sense to me, though, because of the templates. If it was just an IDE, then maybe you could feel bad, but the templates are something you should have to pay for.
The software, of course, can be downloaded directly from the BCD site and consists of two pieces: one for your i and one for the PC you’re working from.
The second piece is the IDE per se, and that goes on your Mac, Windows, or Linux environment.
What you may have noticed is that nowhere have I said anything about the PHP stack or set of software that is required to run PHP on the i (because even though PHP runs on the i, it’s not native to the i). And as it turns out, neither of these pieces of the WebSmart Suite provides PHP stack support. The truth is, WebSmart is designed to run using Zend Server to provide the PHP environment. That is, you may set up your script in the WebSmart IDE, but it will be the Zend engine in Zend Server that really makes it run.
And when I say it’s designed to run using Zend Server, I’m talking on the i. You could run WebSmart just on a PC (BCD would give you the stuff that normally goes on the i in a folder you could load into your PC), but then you would have to provide the PHP environment on your PC for it to work with.
So, What’s the Point?
Obviously, WebSmart is not a replacement for Zend; it’s a complement to it or at least to Zend Server (because you could use the WebSmart IDE versus Zend Studio). So is it worth it?
Well, let’s look at that two ways. First, think about the IDE. Whether the IDE that WebSmart has is better or easier to use than Zend Studio is not something I can comment on. Probably some people will think it’s better; some won’t. You know how people are.
Nor do I think it is all that important. The WebSmart IDE has syntax checking and completion, a debugger, integration to Zend Framework 2, PHP Data Objects (PDO) database access methods, and integration to Z-Ray if that’s part of your Zend Server configuration…all the basic things you need to create and test scripts. In the end, either IDE can do the job for you, and my guess is whichever one you learn first will seem the most natural.
The big takeaway here are the templates. These are not skeleton programs that you have to finish but rather fully formatted pages that you can customize in terms of not only the data that shows up but also the look and feel. There are a number of different “formats” that you can choose from, and then within those formats, you can play with the colors and other effects. I know, when I describe it that way it sounds really dorky, but it’s actually cool because you can choose from a number of very businesslike formats, use your company or gang colors, and incorporate logos or pictures into the mix. And you can do this without having to do any PHP coding.
The templates cover basic CRUD and inquiry types of applications, even providing charts and other sorts of tables. There’s even a separate set of templates for mobile applications. Of course, on the i the scripts (and templates) are stored in the IFS (because they are text files) rather than in an IBM SRC file, and BCD has you covered here by building in an FTP connection to the IFS so that your new and updated scripts can be easily stored. And WebSmart uses the standard Zend toolkit to interface your scripts with existing RPG code.
But there’s one more thing. BCD is an i company. They understand the machine and the people who use it. And there is some advantage to knowing that whoever you talk to there realizes that the i is not some sort of weird Linux operating system.
In the End…
In the end, BCD Software, a corporate partner with Zend, has a product that really fits a need in the i zootopia. And it may be something you want to look at carefully, particularly if you are suddenly told you need to create several web portals that are PHP based and need to be up and ready to go within a very short time. Check it out.
About the author: Dave Shirey
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