Aptana Studio – PHP IDE Alternative to PDT, Zend Studio

Posted by on February 6th, 2009

aptana-studioThe other day I ran into another option as an IDE for PHP. If you’ve been following my blog, I’ve been a big user of Eclipse PDT (http://www.eclipse.org/pdt/) and Zend Studio (http://www.zend.com/en/products/studio/). There is a third one to add to the list, Aptana Studio. It is built on-top of the Eclipse framework, like PDT and Zend Studio. It has several extensions: Python, Rails, PHP, and others. If you’ve read my post on Consumer Linux, I talk a lot about “Power & Polish.” Here is my definition:

In my mind, the way I visualize computing and usability is by using the two terms power & polish. Power is the raw ability to do something. Polish is the ease doing that something.

Linux is very powerful. If you know your way around the command prompt, you can accomplish just about anything. I hate administering Windows Servers because I lack the power that I have when administering a Linux Server. However, I wouldn’t say [the Linux Desktop] is very polished in comparison to OS X. Apple has placed a huge amount of time, effort, and work into polishing the interface and usability of their operating system. The reason I like the term “polish” is because polishing something doesn’t give you anything new, but just makes something already in existence better. It also requires a great deal of work.

Eclipse PDT is pretty powerful IDE for PHP. It’s code completion, one of my highest important priorities when using an IDE for me. Zend Studio is an additional layer of power on top of Eclipse PDT. It also adds some polish with easier installer and a few other things. I think that Aptana Studio addition to the Eclipse family is a little more Polish. It also focus’s its power on other aspects.

Serious PHP vs HTML/CSS/JavaScript

Eclipse PDT and Zend Studio focus on PHP first, then HTML, CSS, JavaScript etc. Don’t get me wrong, they do each okay. However, the focus is a lot more on PHP. Aptana Studio, in my opinion, has better CSS and HTML support. Example, when I manage CSS files in Zend Studio, its really buggy and slow. I think there are some bugs they have to work out. Aptana Studio, on the other hand, works really well.

The flip side is Code Completion. I’m a big fan of the Code Completion in Zend Studio. It works well and pops-up when I want it to. Aptana on the other hand didn’t have a lot of completion options. I found myself wanting for more from it.

Another note worthy aspect of Aptana Studio is their two versions: Aptana Studio and Aptana Studio Pro. I actually like how they have split the features. I honestly feel like if you need the features of the Pro version, you can easily justify the cost. It is also less expensive than Zend Studio at just $99. I also really like the option for premier support tickets where bug fixes & feature requests of Pro users get a higher priority. One thing I’ve found really disappointing with Zend Studio is how hard it is to get support. Almost everytime I find a forum post on Zend’s forums asking for help on a problem, there usually are 3-4 posts saying “I’m having the same problem, I would really like the answer too” without any answer.


Here is my suggestion. If you work heavily in PHP coding behind the scenes, Eclipse PDT and Zend Studio might be a better fit. However, if you’re a developer who is working in both PHP and do a lot with HTML/CSS, you might find Aptana a better fit. I haven’t had a time to really compare the two, but that is my initial finding with the subject of Aptana Studio PHP vs Eclipse PDT vs Zend Studio. Also, if Zend Studio’s price is too steep ($399), Aptana Studio would probably be a LOT easier to swallow. Aptana Sutdio comes with a 30 day trial of pro features. Give them all a try, they all work on Windows, OS X, and Linux. Let me know what you think, and feel free to drop any questions and/or comments.


Justin is a Sr. Director of Engineering at Deseret Digital Media, Previous President of the Utah PHP Usergroup, and frequently works with the Utah Open Source Foundation which organizes the OpenWest Conference. Justin loves just about anything with web technologies from PHP, JavaScript, Node.js, Salt, and managing engineering teams.

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