What you need to get rolling:
- A PHP interpreter. The Windows version provides DLLs that can be referenced by the web server in order to interprete .php file scripts. Without it, the web server thinks the files are simple text files and may show them as such (in Firefox. IE just doesn't show anything inside tags it doesn't recognize). [version 5.2.0].
- A web server - to dish out pages and content when requested from users' browsers. There are several free web server engines, but I chose to go with Apache's HTTPd - simple server that can run as a service on your Windows machine. I was surprised though that I could have chosen to use IIS (not a fan). [version 2.2.3].
- An SQL database application - certainly MySQL, although I could have dumped this experiment to my network of Microsoft SQL 2000 machines. From brief research, MySQL is actually enterprise grade ... and is one of the most popular databases on the web. [version 5.0].
- An intelligent PHP script editor. You could use Notepad if you want, but anyone that's used an IDE knows the value of keyword highlighting, debugging, code completion, etc. I found a free one at MPSoftware's website called PHP Designer 2007. Better than plain text for sure.
If you have programmed before, learning PHP is a simple affair of learning language rules. I'm working out of the reference "PHP and MySQL for Dymanic Web Sites". Pretty simple book for beginners.