Memory Lane for PowerBuilder (PB) Developers
Have you ever noticed that a good number of the die-hard PowerBuilder evangelists started using the development tool some time between versions one and three? It seems that way to me anyway.
I started developing with version three back in the mid-90′s. Most of the long-time developers I’ve worked with started somewhere between version one and three. There are plenty of PB experts that started with later versions, but generally speaking it seems that those who were first to the party are the last to leave. Versions one through three acted as an anchor for locking down loyal PB developers.
PowerBuilder 3 Decades of Refinement
The goal of this article is to create a nice visual trip down memory lane for long-time PB developers, and newer developers interested in the history of the tool. I’m looking for splash screen and/or installation images for every version of PowerBuilder all the way back to version one.
PowerBuilder – A Trip Down Memory Lane
Nearly three decades of PowerBuilder development beginning with version 1 through version 15. Finding graphics for some of the first versions will likely be difficult as there are probably only a handful of people that are capable of coming up with it, Chris Pollach, Bruce Armstrong are a few names that come to mind.
PowerBuilder – Perceptions Over Time
These are opinions of one developer having worked with PowerBuilder for almost twenty years beginning with version three. If you’d rather see a factual history of PowerBuilder you might want to check out the PowerBuilder Phenomenon. And the most detailed history on the internet (borderline dry for non-PB enthusiasts) see PowerBuilder History How Did It Evolve?
Versions 1 to 4 – Bleeding Edge Phase
Those of you that started using PB in the early days, back when PowerSoft still owned the tool remember the excitement of working with a powerful tool far ahead of it’s time. You remember the days when PowerSoft aggressively marketed the tool, sending sales-persons for on-site demonstrations that usually lead to purchases.
DataWindow’s & General Protection Fault’s (GPF)
Memories tend to be the most vivid when they evoke strong emotions. The two that come to mind with the early versions are:
Good: The DataWindow Control needs no introduction as it is still the heart-and-soul of PowerBuilder, the novel connection between database and business logic.
Bad: The General Protection Fault (GPF). The GPF in PowerBuilder is analogous to the Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) in Windows. Like the blue-screen-of-death, everything you were working on stops abruptly and without warning. Resourceful developers found ways of reducing GPF’s by avoiding known problem areas within the application.
PowerBuilder Versions 5 to 8 – Rapid Growth Phase
Versions five through eight were used to build a lot of business applications. During this phase the more serious bugs were worked out of the development IDE and the tool went mainstream. In my mind PB hasn’t peaked yet but it had some great momentum.
PowerBuilder Versions 9 to 12 – Consolidation Phase
Versions nine through twelve represent the peak of PowerBuilder development, and the period when new development peaked and started becoming less common. It seems that once PB 10.5 was released that most PowerBuilder jobs consisted of maintenance or application enhancements. These versions represent some of the most solid releases in my mind with most of the PB quirks worked out of the program. Sadly these are the years when Sybase took over marketing and new development with PowerBuilder began to decline as IT managers believed the water-cooler talk that PB was dead.
Time has shown that PB is about as dead as Cobol, it just refuses to go away. A lot of smaller, simpler applications were converted to .NET but the legacy corporate-wide applications were not even close to being re-written or migrated to other development tools.
PowerBuilder 15 And Beyond
PB Was Supposed To Be Dead
My first year of an eight year contract at a German company that is large enough to be a Fortune 100 company I was told by the business, and IT that the PowerBuilder applications would be gone within a year most likely replaced with SAP. I can still remember some managers betting me a soda that the application was gone in a year, and I’d be gone with it. But us developers in-the-know, the ones keeping these applications running know better and we were confident that the PB applications were going nowhere. It has been almost fifteen years since the bet was made and the applications are still going strong– and I never received my soda either.
Without naming any companies, there are some other Fortune 100 companies I’ve worked since that said the same thing about some huge legacy applications, and not a single one has been re-written or retired. Management planned to replace them but they didn’t bother to ask the developers opinion. We knew the applications were going nowhere and that is exactly where they have gone. Same story, different Fortune 100 company. The best thing that could have happened did happen, SAP took ownership of the tool and committed to supporting it until the end of the decade.
Chasing Microsoft Technology
As cool, and fun as it is using all the new things coming from Microsoft, their development tools still lack the maturity and power to replace the remaining legacy PB applications in production right now. Microsoft is great at building sample applications, or basic CRUD applications but anything beyond that will be painful re-design from PowerBuilder. Now this is happening while IT budgets are sliced RAZOR thin, and I become more confident that PB applications will be here well beyond the next two or three years.
PB is still the only development tool in which one developer can support, and continuously enhance as the business changes. I have been the one-man-team more times than I care to repeat. If you work at a shop that has legacy PB apps than you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. You know about the one, or two developer teams doing the work that a small IT team used to do. This is the reason that a seasoned PB developer is able to command contract rates approaching $100 per hour, and this is the reason that us old-dogs will always have a job if we want one — but that is a different story because we are getting tired and no amount of money is worth killing yourself over — not anymore.
Microsoft Development Tools, Almost Ready For Prime Time
Microsoft still has not addressed the reporting weakness (lack of it) of their development tools. If you need reports then you’ll need a third party tool. If you want to be as productive with Microsoft plan on buying a lot of third party tools and putting together a solid framework.
The dangerously thin IT budgets today cause me to doubt that much progress will be made in replacing legacy PB applications with Microsoft in the next decade.
I am what they call a PB evangelist. I am a die-hard PB loyalist… but I do have fun working with Microsoft development tools such as ASP.NET MVC, or Silverlight. The IDE is second-to-none and documentation outstanding. Microsoft has hinted that Silverlight is a thing of the past and they are changing direction once again. What else is new?
I have digressed from the primary purpose of this, a quick ride down memory lane for us long-time PowerBuilder developers. The way things are going with SAP & PowerBuilder my days of being a PB evangelist may be nearing an end but the tool will survive without me.
The Future Is Unclear… Really Unclear
This is the part where I have absolutely nothing useful to say. This is the first release that I have less confidence in PB surviving than I did before mainly because of the iron-grip SAP has on the software, keeping it out of evangelists’ hands like myself.
I admit having some bitter feelings about the situation– I mean there is no doubt that this blog has contributed to PowerBuilder in a positive way over the last five years but I am unable to obtain a beta copy of the program to review, or use in making a sales pitch to some IT managers that I am friends with.
I’ve been called at least half-a-dozen times by salespersons from SAP and not a single one understands the “S-ID” and PowerBuilder dilemma. And I don’t blame them for wasting their time finding out because they are, after all looking to “sell” the product not help a developer market it for them. This is an SAP management failure and it will come back to haunt them. Just ask the developers that knew PB applications were going nowhere ten years ago.
PB Competitors, Fighting To Go Prime Time
Some have made some snide remarks about my WaveMaker enthusiasm I have shown on this website. I have been playing with the latest release of WaveMaker lately and once again I’m blown away with the progress they have made.
Once again WaveMaker has made the tool more powerful, more intuitive, and solved issues raised by myself and others. I think WaveMaker has a chance to compete in the crowded marketplace especially if SAP fails to understand that developers have a part in marketing their tools. I hate to sound like a whiner but without the PowerBuilder software there won’t be any new PB articles coming, and in the meantime I am really growing fond of WaveMaker.
Those that know me are already aware that I’m not much of a Java fan… that is an understatement. But even with WaveMaker being a Java based tool it continues to grow on me with each release. I can’t predict their future but I do know that for a PB developer it is easy to jump in and use their tool with little or no training. It is actually fun to use and I am working on a third review of WaveMaker and this one will have a sample program with downloadable code like I promised with the last release.
Time will tell what the future holds for PowerBuilder. I look forward to watching that history unfold. If anyone has feedback about PowerBuilder 15, please leave a comment and let us know how it looks. If anyone else is frustrated about SAP’s policy of requiring “S-ID’s” to participate in the beta program feel free to voice your frustration in comments below. Perhaps SAP will pay attention before it is too late, us loyalists are getting tired of holding our breath.
A Community Sourced Article
An article like this would not be possible without a significant amount of collaboration (or a really organized person) so this section is dedicated to acknowledging those that have contributed. They are listed in alphabetical order.
If you appreciate their help, consider visiting and/or sharing their articles, and if you would please let them know we referred you. If you’d like to contribute to the article simply leave the information in a comment below and don’t forget to let us know what you’d like for attribution.
Networking, Life and Death Decision
Hindsight is blah, blah, you know the cliche’. The bottom line is that you have everything to gain and nothing to lose by networking with other developers. If things go bad and your world starts to crumble around you, a network of friends and colleagues may be the difference between life-and-death. I speak from experience, and I learned the hard way.
The universe is expanding, all-day, every-day and unless do something to keep things together you may find yourself alone with nothing in sight at a time when you need help the most. I hope that you decide to begin networking today and begin making your future brighter.
Bruce Armstrong has been using PowerBuilder since version 1.0b. He is the senior editor for the PowerBuilder Developer’s Journal in which he has authored numerous articles and has a monthly news column. He was one of the editors and authors for PowerBuilder 9: Advanced Client/Server Development by SAMS.
Bruce Armstrong’s Publications