Sybase’s PowerBuilder v12 is powerful, .NET based, and wonderful! Why you shouldn’t use it

by Jason L Froebe on August 27, 2009, 15 comments

The following is MY perception of Sybase’s PowerBuilder:

Years ago PowerBuilder was king.  No one could touch it.  It was relatively inexpensive.  Microsoft’s Visual Basic matured and the Pascal based Borland’s Delphi was released.  Then it fell and fall it did.

Sybase

Sybase

As it was falling from the throne Sybase purchased Powersoft, makers of PowerBuilder.  As the the market share continued to shrink, PowerBuilder developers had more difficulty in finding new projects.  Most new development was written in Visual Basic or Java.

Years went by with marketing of PowerBuilder little more than the occasional road show, TechWave presentations and the ISUG Technical Journal ads catered towards existing customers.  Little to no effort was put forth by Sybase to gain new PowerBuilder customers.

During this week’s Sybase TechWave, PowerBuilder version 12 was released.  It has all the whistles and kitchen sinks you could ask for.   An amazing tool for development!  Too bad no one outside of the die hard PowerBuilder programmers will use it.

Blasphemy!  Heretic!

Consider this:

Sybase owns PowerBuilder.  It owns the PowerBuilder software, PowerBuilder language, PowerScript, the PowerBuilder vm, and everything PowerBuilder.

No problem right?

What will happen to PowerBuilder when Sybase is bought out by another company?  Products with tiny market share like PowerBuilder would likely be killed or in a state of limbo for several years.  Anyone remember what happened when IBM bought Informix?

Do you really want to bet your career and business on a software development tool that is locked to a single smallish vendor?

Maybe, perhaps, if Sybase were to release the PowerBuilder 4GL language and PowerScript to the world like Microsoft did with the C# and Visual Basic languages and Sun with Java…   Perhaps if Sybase would allow 3rd parties to develop tools based around the PowerBuilder language royalty free…

Sybase:  PLEASE FREE THE POWERBUILDER 4GL LANGUAGE!

I mean, really, what benefit could Sybase have to cripple the PowerBuilder developers?

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15 thoughts on “Sybase’s PowerBuilder v12 is powerful, .NET based, and wonderful! Why you shouldn’t use it

  1. For PowerBuilder folks worried about their careers, check out the 35 articles that reference the v12 release and the current beta. And, check out our website for an IDC article on PowerBuilder http://www.sybase.com/powerbuilder, and also read the articles carefully for analyst feedback. And, if you want more information on our roadmap, or examples of commercial applications built on PowerBuilder, or who uses it, email me sue.dunnell@gmail.com

    Yes, PB was king in the 90s. Times change, the world of app dev has changed, and so has PowerBuilder. Incidentally, PowerBuilder was never “cheap.” It was always more expensive than Visual Basic. The price hasn’t changed in the 13 years I’ve been associated with the product, and more important, cost has never been a factor in our ability to sell the product, basically because of the value it delivers to customers. The bigger concerns were our commitment to the product and market perception. That has changed and is easy to see in the references noted above. We still have work to do, and we’re doing it.

    Focusing on PowerScript and “opening it up” doesn’t really make sense to me – what’s to open? MS didn’t open up C#; they made a runtime that allows anyone who writes a NET langauge to have portability and compatability. So, we’ve focused on making PowerBuilder a .NET language so that PB developer can easily use any .NET code examples, XAML examples, etc. right in their applications.

    • Hi Sue,

      You bring up some interesting points:

      For PowerBuilder folks worried about their careers, check out the 35 articles that reference the v12 release and the current beta. And, check out our website for an IDC article on PowerBuilder http://www.sybase.com/powerbuilder, and also read the articles carefully for analyst feedback.
      Yes, please do. Many of those articles, are little more than paraphrasing the Sybase press release. Not that this is Sybase’s fault per se, it is an industry wide issue within the press. If you can provide links to any articles that aren’t simply rehashing of the press release it would be appreciated.

      The price hasn’t changed in the 13 years I’ve been associated with the product…
      Odd, in past Programmer’s Paradise catalogs the price varied by a couple hundred dollars IIRC. Perhaps the List Price was the price that didn’t change?

      Focusing on PowerScript and “opening it up” doesn’t really make sense to me – what’s to open?
      How about the PowerBuilder language?

      MS didn’t open up C#
      Umm.. yes they did (from Wikipedia):

      C# (pronounced “C Sharp”) is a multi-paradigm programming language encompassing imperative, functional, generic, object-oriented (class-based), and component-oriented programming disciplines. It was developed by Microsoft within the .NET initiative and later approved as a standard by Ecma (ECMA-334) and ISO (ISO/IEC 23270). C# is one of the programming languages designed for the Common Language Infrastructure.

      So, we’ve focused on making PowerBuilder a .NET language so that PB developer can easily use any .NET code examples, XAML examples, etc. right in their applications.
      That’s all well and good but unless someone buys the PowerBuilder GUI, they can’t use the PowerBuilder language. For example, if someone were to develop an alternative GUI that uses the PowerBuilder language, they would be in violation of Sybase’s, rather draconian, EULA.

      The PowerBuilder language is very proprietary. You might be say that Sybase solely created and extended the PowerBuilder language. Which would be untrue. Both Sybase’s customers and PowerBuilder hobbyists over the years provided a great deal of ideas, improvements and constructive criticism. What would Sybase lose if they released the PowerBuilder language to the world?

  2. PowerBuilder has been and still is a fine tool, it is sad that such a good development environment has down graded so much its market share, but has been much a responsibility of Sybase. Now with SAP on the game the future is very uncertain for the tool as it is for us the developers that invested years of training and experience. It is unfair what is happening. I hope that SAP creates a space on its applications for PowerBuilder, or otherwise sell the software to another company that will work for a better future of the tool.

  3. Client/server… You can’t beat PowerBuilder. Ease of use, flexibility ,adaptability and an excellent RAD. The .Net direction was wise and will help build up market.

    It is an expensive and solid tool. Its current niche is large corporations, government services, insurance companies. I don’t see it going away any time soon

    Any experienced programmer having worked with PB will tell you that the development interface is unrivalled and top notch. The 5.8 billion$ sale to SAP will certainly help :)

  4. Most of the people I know that moved from Powerbuilder to .NET have seen their projects moving from few months to couple of years. At least the ones working with a database of few hundred tables.
    There is a reason why you can’t find an example in .NET where there’s an updatable dataset with outer joins. It’s because .NET forces you to write tons of code (all manual) as soon as you enter into something more complicated that a single table.
    So: marketing (and consultants that live on hourly fees) try to convince you that outer joins are EVIL and they write million articles telling you that:

    select orderid, orderno,
    (select companycode from company where companyid = orderid),
    (select companyname from company where companyid = orderid),
    (select vendorcode from vendor where vendorid = orderid),
    (select vendorname from vendor where vendorid = orderid),
    (select vendoraddress from vendor where vendorid = orderid),
    (select vendorphone from vendor where vendorid = orderid)
    from orders
    ))

    is better than:

    select orderid, orderno, companycode, companyname, vendorcode, vendorname, vendorphone
    from orders
    left outer join company on orders.companyid = orderform.companyid
    left outer join vendor on orders.vendorid = vendor.vendorid

    or that:

    select orderid, orderno,
    (select companycode from company where companyid = orderid),
    (select companyname from company where companyid = orderid),
    (select vendorcode from vendor where vendorid = orderid),
    (select vendorname from vendor where vendorid = orderid),
    (select vendoraddress from vendor where vendorid = orderid),
    (select vendorphone from vendor where vendorid = orderid)
    from orders
    where
    companyid in (select companyid from company where companycode like ‘%C’)
    and
    vendorid in (select vendorid from vendor where vendorcode like ‘%V’)

    it’s better than:

    select orderid, orderno, companycode, companyname, vendorcode, vendorname, vendoraddress, vendorphone
    from orders, company, vendor
    where
    orders.companyid = company.companyid and companycode like ‘%C’
    orders.vendorid = vendor.vendorid and vendorcode like ‘%V’

    and here I made a simple example, the more complex the more disastrous the so called “new best practices” wants you to work.

    Not to mention the difficulties in .NET of getting the database table name or column name from a column in a dataset (especially if you have aliases). Yes I know you can call GetSchemaInfo but it does not return for instance the real table if the original SQL script has Aliases (the last time I have checked).

    So first they told us the story that the way to work with database is only using stored procedures, then they added LINQ, then they realized that people was still struggling and they added Entity Framework.

    If you follow the evolution of the .NET framework you would have to rewrite your app every year (focusing on the flavour data-access method of the day (all flawed in real world cases) and less on what you need to do.

    In Powerbuilder you just collect all tables you need for your data entry graphically and without effort with few clicks, select the table that needs to be updated and then write:

    dw_1.AcceptText()
    dw_1.Update()
    commit using sqlca;

    And that works on multiple databases (SQL Server, Sybase, Oracle etc).

    3 lines, yes, I know it’s horrifying that it’s so easy to do database applications with Powerbuilder, but for us, it’s better to be productive than trendy.
    I know people that stated: I can’t accept that the system writes the CRUD for ME! ADO.NET allows me to do it myself and this is the correct separation between presentation and logic
    (and they end up 99.99% writing by hand the same statement PB would write automatically).
    For one table it’s ok, but when you start something serious it becomes incredibly tedious.

    I can recompile an application from version 5 of Powerbuilder to version 11.5 almost without changes (and not because there are no difference between the versions but because PB always improved something that works and does not require a different way of doing the same things every 6 months)

    Visual inheritance in Powerbuilder is an absolutely brilliant work of productivity.
    Visual Studio does not even come close.
    Now I remember I have to check out PB 12 (it seems that PB supports visual inheritance for WFC that is generally not supported by the .NET framework :-) ).

    Sorry for my bad English, it’s not my first language :-)

  5. Hi,

    i have read your conversation while i am searching for materials to learn Power builder 12 , for the truth i love it and i am just a beginner in programming , so please can any one mail me the getting started guide for Power builder 12 or any other useful book.

    btw i wonder why power builder is not widely spread in the middle east, i am working in kuwait and i know only one company who uses it. but they are so successful company.

    anyways please if any one can help of how to learn and develop my self i would real appreciate it.

    thanks

  6. Sybase is responsible for PowerBuilder’s slow decay. Its such a great tool but they never marketed it well and didn’t move fast enough to get it web enabled. Today also its web output is visible only in IE. Its important that students use it but how many of them know PB or have heard of it when they pass out, negligible number. Sue Dunnell mentioned that its costly and that is not a problem. It is an issue, today Visual Studio has an Express edition which is free. At least if their is a free version students can try it out. Neither are there any training institutes teaching it, nor is anybody interested in learning as no new projects are using PB which is also because PB people are hard to find. So its a full circle of problems now. They never encouraged the software developers and that was the start of the downward slide. Customers don’t want to develop software now, they want solutions. Who will provide solutions – developers. What incentive did Sybase give to developers to use PB, their are hardly any books & training material to name a few issues.

    Sybase must at least try hard to undo the damage. Frankly, I don’t see the effort. If the next generation knows about it, it might be saved from complete oblivion.

  7. there used to be inexpensive price for personal use and training on highly productive sybase /powerbuilder tools as member of sybase user group. don’t know if still available

    As for students, they can always download once the trial everion of powerbuilder to play with, plus many examples and resources on sybase site. online sign up may be required but that is free.

    Don’t know if SAP will be intersted to promoting the PB with limited hosted services for people to try out

  8. there are free resources on powerbuilder from Sybase plus next to free resources $99US to $119 US annual ISUG membership of NFR versions of powerbuilder for personal use plus other benefites

    the virtual user group:
    http://www.isug.com/na/PBVUG.html

    other local groups and benefits of joining:
    http://www.isug.com/common/HowToJoinISUG.html

    for some people, $99 us seem to be out of this world, but it cost far less then a few on-line courses and a lot less than in class training. plus the benefit of in touch of other users and many resources.

  9. i’ve well knowledg in .Net…. bt fortunately/unfortunately(?) I got Job in PB technology,Im very new to PB technolo….
    may i knw i’ve gud future if i get experienced in PB…?
    And someone says SAP bought it so it’l get gud marget in future,hw far it’s true?
    OrElse i can try new job in .Net technolo?
    pls anybody answer for ma query asap….

  10. PB was good, now it’s miles behind .NET 4.

    The development environment has *always* been terrible: random crashes, odd compiler errors and a joke of a debugger! Seriously, try comparing VS2010 with R# to PB…

    • I am very sorry to say you have just overlook the power or feature of PowerBuilder. No one can compete as a RAD tool with PowerBuilder. Myself headed so many projects in both Microsoft Products and Sybase Products. Never i will suspect the power and speed of development in PB. PB 12.5 is rich in all the required feature concerning to Application Programming. Once one will understand the architechture and IDE will not say no to PB.

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