There were a couple of posts last week which brought out the CGI goodness of PHP. PHP has been bashed a lot, by language lovers and by web lovers. However, PHP is still the most popular P in LAMP today.
So PHP earns this unique reputation of being continuously beaten but also being responsible for most of the widely visited sites on the Web. Ian Bicking digs under the covers and brings out the reason for this. In spite of PHP, as a language, not being the best, still offers the best solution for deployment and hosting on the Web. It is not just one reason, but the whole package that PHP provides that gets picked up. I think the sandbox feature that PHP provides is the one biggest responsible for a low barrier to entry and lesser punishment for experimentation, and also for a wider availability of the skills. No wonder that, even if I personally like Python for Web programming, I end up working more on PHP projects. And I am saying this without any regret, which perhaps means that I do acknowledge these features of PHP.
It is also true that PHP builds everything in. And like the author says, it might be a terrible decision for a programming language, but it perhaps serves better for the Web programming tasks. I remember this dialogue with a friend where he felt that PHP was the easiest to experiment in.
A bigger question to ask is whether other languages can do what PHP does. It might not be very easy, because as Ian says, unlike others PHP was built for Web. It might be easier to focus on the benefits and achieve those, even if the means are different. PHP, in spite of its not-so-beautiful syntax, no inbuilt object models or recommended best practices, has proven that you cannot ignore practical aspects, like deployment, if you want to really get used.