Get Programming for Free
Progress is good. It is now possible to get your dev environment setup for free in just about what ever language you want even on Windows. Lets start with C#. Go get the .NET Framework or Mono (yes even on windows). I am told that mono can compile to a single .exe without framework dependencies. Then you would do best to get an IDE, so grab SharpDevelop2 or MonoDevelop or even Visual Web Developer Express. Then get some cool libs like Atlas(AJAX), NPlot(Graphing) and especially Enterprise Library for .NET Framework 2.0. Then get up to speed with GotDotNet or MonoDocs or the quick start guide for ASP .NET Even get up and running on Oracle.
Oracle too has a way to get up and running for free. Download Oracle XE and SQL Developer. XE comes with a nice web interface for administering all of its aspects called HTMLdb, but at this time it is not available for the Enterprise server, so you would be best off getting used to SQL Developer. Then once you have it going you can drop a WAMP server in and start programming with PHP on the Zend Core for Oracle. Which is now free for Oracle XE.
My favorite way of getting a permanent install of PHP going is WAMP5 install package and management bundle. The version I am running came with Zend Optimizer. Then there are many IDEs to choose from but keep your eye one the Eclipse PHP project. Even though it is young it is moving along swiftly and is backed by Zend. My second favorite free IDE is Magma. IMHO an IDE should have good syntax highlighting, code completion, some sort of code snipit handling and active debugging. HTML-kit does all of those accept the debugging, only because a plugin has not been written yet to my knowledge. It has a highly customizable tool bar and you can download hundreds of pre-built toolbars from the site. Or you can even run PHP on the .NET framework with Phalanger which has Visual Studio integration too.
Speaking of commercial IDEs if you haven’t checked out Komoto you should. It is one of the most capable cross language editors (Perl, PHP, Python, Ruby, and Tcl) and the personal edition is very affordable. If you are serious about PHP, Zend Studio is the only way to go. It is the only IDE that matches my above mentioned expectations and then surpassed them with Zend Studio Server and Zend Platform.