Today, we released PHP 5.1 Beta 1.
I'm very excited about this new version as it is yet another important milestone in PHP's rise to market dominance :)
It features PDO, improved performance, PCRE 5.0, SOAP and more...
Personally I believe PDO (thanks Wez) is something I have been expecting for a long time. I think the most important contribution of PDO is to finally provide stable and tested database support across all database servers (due to all drivers being built on top of a common framework), and therefore, strengthening PHP's DB agnostic nature and vendor neutrality. Other exciting new features are performance related, including a new execution architecture for the Zend Engine II, C-level realpath() caching for increased performance in real-world production Web server deployments, and an improved garbage mechanism or more precisely lack of (we managed to nuke that whole mechanism).
Other notable features are PCRE 5.0 support (thanks to Andrei), SPL improvements (thanks Marcus), stream improvements (thanks to Sara), and lots of other fixes and improvements from the likes of Dmitry, Ilia, Jani, Derick, Antony and lots of others.
Although talk of the beta had started several months ago, it was only released now because of constant improvement of the PHP code base. I think when there is so much progress being made on many fronts, it is hard to find the perfect moment for a release. That said, I think the major goal for PHP 5.1 of PDO, improved performance, stability and functionality have definitely been accomplished. Of course, there is still plenty to improve upon, which is always the case. If it weren't then the project would be dead.
Looking into the future, in my opinion, the most exciting upcoming new feature is Unicode support. This has been led by Andrei, and with Dmitry's help, the PHP core and the Zend Engine is already quite Unicode friendly. Once 5.1 goes release candidate, I expect to branch of 5.1.x, shut down the 5.0.x dev branch, and we'll start merging Unicode support into HEAD. This will give an opportunity for the developer community to start making the necessary changes in PHP extensions to play nicely with the Unicode support.
Needless to say, with the direction of sharing data via RSS/ATOM and Web Services & PHP being deployed all across the globe, Unicode is key to continue PHP's current growth.