Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Professionalism, Web development, and giving oxy to morons

Whereas a poor craftsman will blame his tools, poor tools will handicap even the most skilled craftsman.

As I insinuated in my previous post, I'm getting up to speed on the Zend Framework, the "900-kg elephant" of PHP application frameworks.

One major bone I have to pick with the ZF team is with regard to documentation: each time I've checked the site in the last couple of months, there's been an apparently current HTML version (now clocking in at some 300 HTML pages). There is also a PDF version, the promise of which is used as an enticement to register for their content distribution network (and, presumably, marketing info). As of this moment, however, the framework is at version 1.8.0, but the PDF version of the programmer's reference manual only covers version 1.6.0 (from September, 2008); some 12 releases earlier. It no longer fully matches the actual code, to the point where it is not difficult for a new developer to get deeply confused.

After spending a half-hour browsing the HTML version of the document, I am unable to find any declaration as to which version of the Framework is documented. However, the README.TXT file included with the source distribution states that it covers the 1.8 release, revision 15226, released on April 30, 2009. Classes which are listed in the README as being new, such as Zend_Filter_Encrypt, are documented in the HTML programmer's guide. Establishing a match between the (HTML) doc and the current code is non-trivial, however. While it may be argued that people unfamiliar with browsing a Subversion repository are not likely to be common within Zend's target audience, I would indirectly refute that: a product release, particularly one with a strong industry following, should be

  • properly documented;
  • easy for a (prospective) user to verify that he has the complete package; and
  • with a definite, intuitive learning curve.
In my view, the Zend Framework fails on at least two of these points. The assertion within large segments of the PHP community that it is the "gold standard" of PHP application frameworks should be a disturbing, cautionary omen: if Web development, particularly PHP development, wishes to be taken seriously by the software industry at large, then some major improvements and attitude shifts need to occur quickly, publicly and effectively. It is still far too easy for potential developers outside the "early-adopter" leading edge to scoff that PHP development (and, by extension, Web development as a whole) is still far too immature and amateurish to be taken seriously. As someone who has developed professionally in PHP for some ten years now, that is a disturbing state of affairs; one that I would love to see (and participate in) a free-ranging discussion of.

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