I’ve used the PHP Storm IDE for the last 4 years (give or take). All the cool kids seem to be transitioning to Microsoft Visual Studio now. I have to say, it looks pretty slick, from what I’ve seen of it, but I’ve not tried it yet myself. I’m looking forward to doing that, but not anytime soon.
For now, I’m happy with PHP Storm. It’s part of the Jetbrains IDE set, and for 2 years I’ve had the license for the whole set. Up to now I haven’t used many of the other IDEs in the set, but that’s changing.
Having a familiar interface to program in when exploring less familiar language has been a great help. Certainly a lot easier than debugging in the browser.
If you’re going to be doing serious programming, you owe it to yourself to find a tool (or set of tools) that help you. That means that you take some time to get familiar with them and configure them to fit your workflow. And, yes, it’s going to take some time and effort. Once you’ve done that, a good IDE setup will become invisible; it will feel like it’s not even there, so you can focus on your work, not your tools.
It says something for how well the tools work, when as I started exploring a new language in depth outside my familiar development environment I found myself trying to figure out as much “How can I edit this code?” as “What do I need to change in this code?” Returning to a familiar coding environment (for me, WebStorm) removed that first hurdle so I could get on with the second.
Whatever your tools, choose a set that works for you, and stick with it until it no longer stays out of your way. (That’s the indicator that you might need a change. Some people I know are still using VIM and are completely happy with it!) Some shiny new things that come along may be worth adding to your kit. You know them when you start feeling a pinch in your workflow: “I wish I didn’t always have to stop what I’m doing because…” At that point you find the tool that addresses that need. But switching from one to the next too frequently is a form of hiding from the more important work.