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Sybase Releases PowerBuilder 12 Beta and Adds WPF Support

Sybase today released the beta release of PowerBuilder 12, a new version of the company’s venerable RAD tool suite that sports a new IDE for developing apps using a Windows Presentation Foundation-based interface on top of the Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 shell.

PowerBuilder 12 comprises of what amounts to two distinct IDEs: a "classic" PowerBuilder dev environment for win32, updated from last year’s 11.5 release; and the new WPF-based mode, called PowerBuilder .NET With this tool-within-a-tool strategy, Sybase aims to support its loyal PowerBuilder user base, while leveraging the Visual Studio infrastructure for developers building apps on the .NET Framework, said Sue Dunnell, product manager for Sybase’s PowerBuilder group.

"We believe that we’re providing the easiest tool to build .NET applications while leveraging your existing [PowerBuilder] investment," Dunnell said. "Which is not to say that we’re not focusing on new users. We are; we get thousands of them every year. But we know that our loyal customer base has to be where our main focus is."

Provided as two "self-contained modules," the IDEs are designed to allow PowerBuilder developers to leverage their skills for .NET development, and to invigorate the
PowerBuilder community, Dunnell says. PowerBuilder 12 also comes with a migration utility for converting win32 apps into WPF. As reported, Microsoft's forthcoming Visual Studio 2010 sports a WPF-based interface.

In 2002, Sybase launched a four-phase plan to provide.NET support within PowerBuilder. Starting with version 9, the company added Web services support; version 10 saw the DataWindow integrated with the .NET Framework; version 11 allowed users to deploy their PowerBuilder business logic as a .NET assembly, consume .NET assemblies, and deploy entire applications as .NET WinForms or WebForms; version 11.5 released last year, focused on core DataWindow enhancements and.NET enhancements and functionality.

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. At the time, it was revolutionary, said Forrester analyst Jeffrey Hammond.  For PowerBuilder 12, Sybase has rewritten the DataWindow control in managed code, Hammond noted, with native support for WPF.

"PowerBuilder has always been about the DataWindow, and it’s good to see it getting updated, enhanced, and brought in-line with the evolution of Microsoft’s platform strategy." Hammond, himself a former PowerBuilder developer, said that around 10 to 15 percent of the companies Forrester surveys regularly still have some PowerBuilder code "kicking around." The analyst firm receives "a fair number" of calls every year from clients asking about the future of PowerBuilder and whether they need to migrate running PowerBuilder apps to something else. 

"I’m pretty positive we’ll still see it in five years," he said  "It’s difficult to look 10 years out; we could easily be running on clouds and writing primarily Python or Scala from our iPhones. But if you pushed me, I’d expect that PowerBuilder and PowerBuilder apps will still be ticking along inside IT shops."

PowerBuilder was part of a generation of tools that had its heyday in the client-server era (Delphi, Visual Basic 6, Oracle Forms). It was enormously popular in the enterprise, and there are still a lot of robust, mission-critical PowerBuilder solutions out there, observes Gartner analyst Mark Driver.

"There hasn’t been any real growth in the PowerBuilder user base for a while," he said. "It’s become sort of a niche tool. The people I talk with about it are using PowerBuilder because there’s an entrenched developer base and it’s just not cost-effective to retrain those developers on something else. Even more common, there’s a code base of a bunch of applications written over the course of many years that just aren’t broken. They work just fine and need to be maintained."

PowerBuilder is facing a future of decreasing resources, Driver predicts—fewer consultants, training, third-parties, experts, etc. "There are fewer PowerBuilder developers on the planet today than when I went to bed last night," Driver said.  "What impresses me is that Sybase could have sunset this thing years ago, boxed it up and said, 'we’re going to milk this cow until it goes dry.' But to their great credit, they have kept it up to date. I don’t even consider PowerBuilder to be a legacy tool set. The company has released incremental enhancements, small feature changes, year after year, and slowly moved to this .NET footprint while maintaining backward compatibility. And so they’ve give developers very good reason to look at their overall IT portfolio."

Hammond added that Sybase still has a stable product with thousands of customers and millions of lines of code paying yearly support fees. "The company rightly wants to hold onto that revenue as long as possible to fund development of other products, such as its iAnywhere," he said.

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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