If you are a PHP developer (or an aspiring one) then you will need a development environment. If you have been trying to write a site using windows notepad, then I feel oh so sorry for you. There is help…
You will find that the industry standard are all eclipse based. eclipse is an open source IDE that is customizable for just about any programming you would need it for on just about any OS that you would like to do it on. I believe eclipse was started with the Java language, but is now used for everything from android to zend.
Aptana studio is a fork from the eclipse project with their main focus to be on building a specific application that is tailored directly for web development ventures. I have used Aptana and it is a very promising platform. Everything is present very well and the interface is definitely more clean than eclipses. With that said, I did not stick with the product for a reason in which I don’t fully remember, it has been awhile since I used the product, and if anyone has the intentions to strictly do web development and nothing more I would insist that you take a peek at aptana first. The getup-and-go ability of this application is very nice since eclipse (being as versatile as it is) does require some configuration to get it just right for your purposes.
Now for eclipse. I have used it quite a bit, everything from raw java development, to php, to android dev. I would suggest that if you have the intentions to do more than just web programming, that perhaps you start looking at eclipse. It may get frustrating trying to get the right plugins installed and configured correctly, but once everything is setup properly it is a very stable and very usable IDE. With that said you might wonder “well what version do I use?”, as you will quickly see, the eclipse download page offeres many downloads for many different types of development. I would suggest that you should download the top version, which is usually the one tailored for Java developers… but that doesnt matter because you will have to install your own custom plugins anyways which will change everything you need. Now when it comes to PHP plugins for eclipse, I believe there are a few to choose from, but hands-down you should install the PDT plugin. This stands for “PHP Development Tools”… not only is it an official plugin from eclipse, but Zend ( a very big company focused on the advancement of php) commits a lot of code and resources to the development of this plugin ( and you will soon see why). But this means that it will have the most features you need with the easiest of use and functionality. Proper code highlighting and syntax checking.
Note: If you are using a Linux OS with eclipse I would strongly suggest downloading the IDE from the eclipse website rather than installing it from the source repository. I had used this method once-upon-a-time because I figured “Oh now this will keep it all updated”, but what I soon realized while trying to utilize some new(er) features is that the repo version was several years old! This was not going to work for me, so I uninstalled it and simply replaced it with a fresh download from the eclipse site. In retrospect, this is a better approach because the last thing a developer wants to deal with while in mid-project is having an auto-updater demolish his IDE (which sometimes updates do). This way helps protect yourself by knowing exactly when and why you choose to update your IDE.
Last (but not least) is Zend studio. As I had mentioned earlier, Zend is a big company focused around PHP and what it can do for companies. One of their products is of course Zend Studio. Which offers many useful tools and features specifically tailored for PHP. If you are lucky enough to have a copy of this software, it would also be likely that you are running a Zend server. In this case you will have access to a WHOLE SLEW of additional features where you can actively debug on the server, view very detailed statistics about performance and load balancing your code. It is very nice… I personally have never used the tool, but have watched a few tutorials about it, and have drooled a bit over it as well… But in the end basically it is the eclipse framework with an overhaul of the PDT plugin and a little (or a lot) of Zend spice in there to really make it a sound product. If I come around to downloading a trial version of it, I will definitely post my feedback.