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PowerBuilder Revved with .NET Hooks

Sybase PowerBuilder 11.1 adds .NET enhancements.

PowerBuilder 11.1's new .NET hooks now allow developers to incorporate Web services such as the Flickr photo management site.

PowerBuilder was once regarded among the hottest IDEs during the heyday of client/server computing, and while it still has a following among enterprise corporate development teams it has recently lacked the pizzazz of more modern programming suites. Yet the newest incarnation of Sybase Inc.'s venerable 4GL RAD tool, just released, adds some noteworthy enhancements with support for Microsoft's .NET Framework.

Sybase dubbed its PowerBuilder 11.0 release ".NET simplified." Version 11.1 adds .NET enhancements the Dublin, Calif.-based company says it couldn't get into the earlier version by the November release date.

"We didn't want customers to have to wait to get their hands on version 11 and deploy it to .NET," says Dave Fish, senior software engineer and technical evangelist for Sybase. Release 11.1 adds new Windows Vista support, .NET Framework incremental compile capabilities and database driver enhancements.

One of a Kind
PowerBuilder 11.1 also comes with the newest version of DataWindow, probably the best part of this revered 4GL RAD tool. Created in the early 1990s by Kim Sheffield, the DataWindow was the first component to allow RAD access for reporting and updating to SQL databases. Then, it was revolutionary; today, it's still one of a kind.

"Whenever I get a data-driven development tool presentation, and they show me how you build controls or wire widgets together, I always compare it to the PowerBuilder DataWindow," says Forrester Research Inc. analyst Jeffrey Hammond. "Without exception, at least from my biased opinion as a former PowerBuilder developer, those data-access mechanisms come up short in comparison."

While PowerBuilder is still used in quite a few enterprise development shops, its usage is a small fraction of where it was at its peak during the client/server era. "In its heyday, there were probably more than a million PowerBuilder developers; there can't be more than 100,000 today, worldwide," says Gartner Inc. analyst Mark Driver.

The PowerBuilder user base hasn't shown any noteworthy growth in the past five years, Driver says. Forrester's Hammond agrees, noting that 10 percent to 15 percent of his inquiries -- at best -- are regarding PowerBuilder, mostly whether to stick with it. "I don't see new teams adopting it," Hammond says.

New in PowerBuilder 11.1
  • DataWindow .NET 2.5 control for .NET Framework-based environments included
  • Web services can be used as a data source
  • TreeView presentation styles supported
  • Design-time environment can be integrated with Visual Studio 2005 integration

PowerBuilder's .NET Hooks
For those loyalists and developers looking to modernize client/server apps programmed with PowerBuilder or bridge them into Microsoft's current environment, PowerBuilder 11.1's DataWindow .NET 2.5 control for .NET Framework-based environments -- which Sybase also offers as a standalone product -- is designed to simplify and accelerate the creation of data-driven apps. This version allows developers to use Web services as a data source, offers TreeView presentation styles and supports the integration of the design-time environment with Visual Studio 2005.

PowerBuilder was part of a generation of tools that had its heyday in the client-server era. But it was enormously popular in the enterprise, and there are still a lot of robust, mission-critical PowerBuilder solutions out there, Gartner's Driver recalls.

PowerBuilder
[click image for larger view]
PowerBuilder 11.1's new .NET hooks now allow developers to incorporate Web services such as the Flickr photo management site.

"To Sybase's credit, they never gave up on the product," he says. "They continued to invest in it, upgrading it at least once a year. So it does a very good job of what it does, which is two-tier client-server development. But that model has been subsumed by the Web."

Jeffrey Hammond, Analyst, Forrester Research Inc.
Driver credits the Sybase strategy of providing .NET enhancements to PowerBuilder with extending the IDE's lifespan. "They've never given the developer a reason not to stick around, never given him more pain than benefit," he says. "But tools like this never disappear overnight. And Sybase could very well continue to give enterprises with existing investments in PowerBuilder developed code and skill for many years into the future."

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance author and journalist based in Silicon Valley. His latest book is The Everything Guide to Social Media. Follow John on Twitter, read his blog on ADTmag.com, check out his author page on Amazon, or e-mail him at john@watersworks.com.


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