Signals from the open-source LAMP

Peter Judge: As PHP apparently becomes the world's leading scripting language, the open-source LAMP burns a little more brightly.

Around the end of 2000, the open-source movement gained something new to rally round. People noticed that as well as Linux, Apache was doing very well as a Web server, and the open-source database, MySQL, was gaining features at a ferocious rate, making it -- in many circumstances -- quite viable as an alternative to products like Oracle.

With the addition of a scripting language, the open sourcers said, they had a viable open-source Web platform to deploy quite sophisticated applications. The scripting language field was not quite so clear at this point, but since three of the leaders (Perl Python and PHP) all began with the same letter, the group had the basis for a nifty acronym. LAMP, for Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP/Perl/Python, was to be the open-source Web platform.

As an acronym it's got a lot going for it. For a start, it's more business-like than the rather lightweight-sounding Floss (for Free/Libre/OpenSource Software). It details a set of specific tools that should make up a workable alternative to the (more) commercial industry's products. And in one word answers the problems that follow from the industry's overemphasis on Linux.

Linux is an operating system, and if we give the idea that the open-source movement is just based around that, then people can dismiss it by saying they need more -- they need applications. LAMP points out that all the essential components are there, in open-source form, to do real work on real Web sites.

Much of the energy (if that's not a bad pun) came from publisher O'Reilly, which noticed that it is, itself, a LAMP user. "I realised that we used LAMP at O'Reilly Network," said Dale Dougherty director of O'Reilly Research, when the company launched OnLamp.com, a Web site for open-source information and advocacy.

One might describe LAMP as a standard for the group to rally around, if the standard lamp was not such a domesticated piece of hardware.

Since then, the acronym has clarified a little. While Perl and Python have strong communities, in most popular usage of scripting languages PHP seems to have taken the lead -- and the last letter of the word.

But while the individual components have been developing, LAMP has not exactly had a blaze of publicity. But in August two things happened that should put the, ahem, spotlight on it.

Firstly, Sun launched a Linux server -- its first that was not a specialist appliance machine. And the company's executive vice president of software, Jonathan Schwartz, made a public statement of support for LAMP. See our interview with Schwartz.

Now, with its investment in Solaris -- or more importantly the revenue it gets from it in the data centre -- Sun is not able to push LAMP as hard as its proponents might like. But Schwartz certainly made a case for the platform at the edge of corporate networks, where budgets are tight. LAMP, in one blow, gives an alternative to Microsoft Windows (Linux) and Oracle (MySQL).

The other event was the fact that PHP overtook Microsoft's ASP as the most popular server-side scripting language on the Web -- at least according to Zend, the company that the creators of PHP set up to sell PHP tools.

According to the excellent Netcraft rolling survey of Web servers, Apache was running more than 63 percent of the world's Web servers in August, and this figure was growing. PHP is running on about half those servers, according to Zend -- and on other Web server platforms as well.

Certainly, the incidence of ".php" extensions in commercial Web sites on the Net is pretty widespread. Zend counted 2.1 million downloads of PHP in August, with a growth rate of 15 percent per month. And it has become "commercial" at an impressive rate, with Zend doing good business selling tools suitable for professional developers.

So the pieces are falling into place, and LAMP is looking more like reality. It looks very much as if the industry is heeding its signals.

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