Saturday, January 16, 2010

My Journey with and without Powerbuilder

As I mentioned in my previous post, I worked on Powerbuilder (PB) for a while, went away and finally came back to using it. I came  in contact with Powerbuilder in the early 1990. I was working for a Consulting company and we evaluated several products to port an existing applications written in B-Trieve/C and some others in d-Base.

The version I came to see was ver 3.0 and it really took me by surprise. In those days, writing windows programs was not easy. Anyone written programs in C/C++ programs would understand. I also dabbled in a few tools, including C and Turbo Pascal. Remember all those resource files you had to do, to make a screen? PB (and few other tools of the day) changed all that. It was called the 4GL (4th generation language, as against C which was a 3GL language). These were the times when CASE tools were also becoming popular. See this wiki article for more on those.

So, PB naturally had a lot of competition. Microsoft Visual Basic, Gupta SQL, Oracle forms for windows (CDE) were there to name a few. We did try each of these, but PB fared better than the rest. (Of course Oracle forms was there already, which was popular and did the job, but it wasn't a windows application builder. It's cousin Oracle CDE didn't do a good job at the time). Powerbuilder had something unique that made it win that round of the competition, the datawindows.

I joined one of the medium sized consulting companies in 1994. They got me into a shipping company, APL, in Oakland, CA. The company was porting their mainframe programs to client server world using Powerbuilder/Oracle. It was an ambitious plan, but it definitely looked glamorous (Kind of what mobile apps are to the current generation). With only some exposure to the product, I joined APL as a PB expert. All those mainframe programmers felt threatened and wanted to learn PB from me as quickly as possible to keep their jobs! Legacy has to go and the glitter of client/server was in! I saw several legacy products getting migrated from mainframe and other platforms to PB. There were products to bring mainframe data into PB screens including a "screen scraper" from Mitem View!

At that time Powerbuilder was owned by a company called Powersoft. It was a cute Client/Server product that allowed one to create windows screens that would connect to a database server and these were to replace those complex mainframe applications. It was like gold rush! For over 5 years, PB was ruling the corporate world. And like the gold rush came the bust as well.

The year was 1999. Sybase acquired PB by then. By then PB projects were dwindling down, and PB links on the web started disappearing on the web.  Java was in, at several of those places that went into PB earlier. Client/Server was not going to cut it any more and n-tier was the word. They did come up several contraptions to put themselves in the n-tier world, but none really succeeded back then.

I was in Toronto, trying to win a PB project at the time. I did some prototypes, but the local Sybase developers undercut us. They came with the just released PB 7.0, which we hadn't seen. Their prototype and PB, both included a Treeview structure (sorta what you see in windows explorer). That was end of PB career, or so I thought at the time. I left the PB scene like 1000s of other programmers seeking greener pastures. Java came to the rescue, I also had an opportunity to get to know a great product called Forte. (Forte was a truly OO and n-tier product from the get go. More about it in another post).

Then, came recessions, job losses. In 2004, surprisingly, PB came to my rescue in an unsuspecting place in Fremont, CA. That kept me going a bit more and I branched into Oracle world. And another recession brought me back to the PB world again.

I recently took a job at the city of LA, in supporting and enhancing their Powerbuilder application running against EA Server.

In the world of short lived technologies and dying programming tools, I am amazed to find this product not only surviving, but evolving into what it is today, Powerbuilder + EA Server (Jaguar). In the upcoming posts, I will share some of my experiences and views about the tool!

Born Again Powerbuilder

I am a born again Powerbuilder (developer)! That's right I program in Sybase's Powerbuilder, again!

Like many I also left it sometime in 1999 when it looked like fading. But, Powerbuilder has proved it's worth and reserved it's place and pace in the ever growing world of Java, C++ and .Net. It has not only survived the onslaught of new technologies, but I feel it is coming out of hibernation.

To those who don't have a clue as to what Powerbuilder is, it's a client server development tool that a small company called Powersoft brought out in the late 80's. It had it's hay days in the 90's during the hysteria in corporate world to migrate out of "legacy" mainframe applications to Client/Server. Few of us, that knew Powerbuilder were the "new kids on the block" and the new order priests. But it all dried down soon after Sybase took over. By then internet programming took over and the rest is history.

Now, Powerbuilder is becoming "legacy" application itself and I know what those Mainframe programmers must have felt when we "Client/Server" programmers arrived. One consolation: Powerbuilder did not die while competition like Visual Basic, Gupta SQL and Oracle CDE slowly disappeared in the corporate scene, either naturally or because of company policies. At least, it has been a recession proof job finder for me.

If anyone tries to search "Powerbuilder" on the net, they may be up against broken links and/or old contents. There hasn't been any good books written on the subject and while it seems to be dying, you also hear about Sybase bringing out the Powerbuilder ver 12.x and Pocketbuilder etc. They also silently integrated Java into their product line.

I recently took up yet another Powerbuilder job maintaining a PB 10.x application using EA Server 5.5. I intend to share with you my experiences and my love-hate relationship with the product.

Hope you find this useful.