Introduction
I have been using Zend Studio For Eclipse for over a year now and although I started using it around version 5.5, which was rocky to say the least, I am currently using version 6.1.2. and testing 7.0 Beta--which seems rather promising with its error reporting even extending to Zend Server, should you have that installed as a localhost. Throughout the past year I have become rather attached to "my Zend" and I can honestly say that after trying another (Free) Eclipse based IDE I found myself gravitating back to "my Zend" faster than the "Other One" could uninstall itself.
Zend has a nice, clean interface. I have it customized to suit my needs. It does more than I ask of it. That's more than I can say for most of the software installed on my laptop. While I do begrudge having to fork out close to $400 for it, I think it is worth it at the end of the day. After all, mine puts in a 20 hour day, 7 day work week without complaining or crashing. Respect.
All in all though, I think there are things that Zend could do better, but there's a whole lot they did quite well. Lets have a closer look at the details.
Zend is one of the few products that is a pleasure to install. Run the Anywhere Installer and Bob's your uncle. Something has to be said about the startup time though. I initially thought it was my RAM that was impeding it. I upgraded by 3GB and still found that it could take as much as a full minute to get running. But once it is up and running it is pretty stable. However, do not try to kid yourself into running this baby on any machine having less than 1GB RAM. I tried. I failed.



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Zend Studio 7 Starting Up

In the beginning I was completely unimpressed with Zend Studio. But you have to know that this was still Zend 5.5 and I was not fully aware of what it could do. It really has taken me a year to start to harness the full potential of "my Zend", but then again I spend more time working with it than playing with it, and most of what I have found out, I found out by accident. Still, the features are pretty cool, even if you only see it as an expensive version of notepad with colors.
Most of the coolest visual features are changeable under window -> preferences. Here you can set the colors, font styles, font colors, and about a thousand other things, from HTML to XML, PHP to JavaScript, its all there. You could spend literally hours playing with those settings alone. Its annoyingly addictive to my obsessive-compulsive mind. I mean, how small can I get the font size to be without losing the smooth curves on the letter 'S'? Probably the best feature to edit here, though, is the PHP Formatter. You tell it exactly how you like your PHP formatted. You code and code. When you are done you hit CTRL+SHIFT+F and the PHP is perfectly formatted. There is also an HTML, CSS and JavaScript formatter that works in the same way, although I never have managed to get the HTML formatter to work properly when PHP is embedded inside HTML tags. It doesn't really bug me though: I am way too obsessive to let my code lie around unformatted before I go to the next line!
SVN and CVS are extremely flexible and include all the recommended layouts and options. I connect to external-- network based--subversion repositories as well as a localhost repository on my laptop. Zend Studio's repository browser handles all of this without effort, and checking projects in and out of the SVN is easily done from the PHP explorer. Figure 1 shows my own subversion repository browser.



Figure 1

Something I find extremely handy though is the Data Source Explorer. This is basically a very simple version of SQL YOG or PhpMyAdmin. You can connect to just about any type of database--local or remote--and browse, edit, delete and update tables.


Figure 2

Figure 2 shows the Data source browser itself. From there you can open the table in the main editor pane, as shown in Figure 3, or you can explore the columns, dependencies, index's and triggers.



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Figure 3

Perhaps the one thing missing here--the reason why my SQL YOG still stands at the ready in my object dock--is that you cannot transfer complete databases or even tables from one database to another. I understand that this is not a specialized Database Suite, and I also understand that I can export the database data to a file dump, but this would really be an amazing feature in my mind, it is something I do almost daily and not having it will slow down my day.
Running Queries is very simple using the SQL Scrapbook. This effective little system allows you to run SQL queries on any database you are connected to in your Data Explorer (See Figure 4).



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Figure 4

Now we get to the bread and butter of Zend Studio: The PHP Explorer. This is where you create your projects (or import them from SVN, CVS or file system). A project is basically your website or application that is 'built' by Zend Studio. 'Building' means everything is indexed. This is particularly handy in complex OOP environments where classes are extended, for instance. Click on the class name and it opens the file containing that class in a new tab. The same goes for function names. Hover over the name and hold on your CTRL button. The name becomes clickable. Click on it and you are taken to the function or class. If it does not seem to mean much to you now, use this feature a few times then try and go without it. You will miss it.
Another thing Zend Studio has that I find extremely useful is the Remote Explorer. This is essentially direct FTP from your editor. You can connect directly to any FTP server securely, and edit the site from this remote connection. All that is missing here is some kind of file uploading system. It would be really neat to be able to upload my site to my remote server directly from the editor interface without having to open my FTP Client. However, Aptana does have an plugin that does just that. The problem is that every time I have installed the Aptana plugin I have found myself having to reinstall Zend because it became extremely 'buggy' as soon as the Aptana interface started running.
There are also some other impressive features such as a PHP Functions Window(Figure 5), listing all the PHP functions there are, as well as a project outline that lists all of the constants, classes, functions and Soap Clients that are involved with the current project you are working on.


Figure 5

On the whole, Zend Studio For Eclipse is a well rounded system capable of more than just the ordinary text-editor type programs. Being built on Eclipse is a bonus, but in my mind it is the best editor built on Eclipse so far. In some way the folks at Zend have stumbled upon a way of integrating user-friendliness with stability. I know it has taken a long time to achieve stability, but it has come at last. Development has become fun again. And colorful. And clickable. And Stable.
Marc Steven Plotz