Zend Studio review: Stable and integrated development suite for PHP

Zend Studio is one of the two major commercial packages built around plugins for the Eclipse platform.

In theory, you can get many of Zend Studio's features for free with the open source PHP Development Toolkit (PDT), Eclipse plugins that are built in part with help from Zend. But I had no success with them. My version of Eclipse (3.7) wouldn't install the current PDT plugins because of a long list of conflicts. These could probably be eliminated with some judicious pruning of the code, something that open source makes possible, but I lost patience.

Zend's website offers a long checklist of the differences between the PDT plugins and Zend Studio, but many of the differences have little to do with PHP development directly. For instance, Zend Studio offers GIT and SVN support, but PDT doesn't. However, anyone using Eclipse can install other plugins with these features that work with all languages.

Two of the main features you get are stability and testing. I had little luck getting the PDT plugins to work with my current version of Eclipse or even with a clean version of Eclipse I tried from scratch. Zend Studio, on the other hand, started right up.

Zend integrates the plugins and removes the roadblocks before distributing everything as one big ball of code. You can use the various tools in Zend Studio separately as plugins, but installing the bundle made more sense. In theory, these plugins should play nicely together. In practice, it's easier to pay someone to make sure it's true.

Despite all of this, there were still moments when I struggled. While Zend Studio said it could detect the Zend Server, I had to fiddle with several buttons until the application would deploy. There are a number of features for controlling the deployment, and configuration is not as simple as a push of one button. Deployment options include using the local server, deploying to a distant version of Zend Server, or connecting to phpcloud.com, and this flexibility comes with a price.

OUR VERDICT

Zend Studio is one of the more extensive IDEs, including features like a toolbar for Firefox and IE, although the toolbar wouldn't work with the latest version of Firefox that Mozilla automatically shoved into my system. There are buttons to add JavaScript libraries and generally make life a bit easier for AJAX developers. Zend Studio isn't as simple as some of the other IDEs, but it's a thoroughly modern setup packed with features.