Builder's e-business challenge

After success at the forefront of client/server computing, Powerbuilder systems are now being Web-enabled for e-commerce

After success at the forefront of client/server computing, Powerbuilder systems are now being Web-enabled for e-commerce

Nick Langley

What is Powerbuilder?

A fourth generation language (4GL), in other words, a development tool that replaces some of the hard slog of coding with GUI-based shortcuts.

In the early 1990s, Powerbuilder was the most successful desktop development tool on the market. That success was partly due to its openness, which Sybase has continued to maintain, although inevitably the perception has grown up that Powerbuilder is primarily for Sybase database products.

Sybase says the Powerbuilder user community reflects the distribution of leading RDBMS products - 50% use Oracle, 20% Sybase, and 18% use Informix.

Conversely, other development tools, such as Visual Basic, are widely used with Sybase databases. The Java development environment PowerJ is similarly open.

Where did it originate?

With Powersoft, a fast-growing start-up which shot to the head of the cross-platform development tool market before being acquired by Sybase.

It was a good marriage - Sybase and Powersoft had both foreseen the rise of client/server computing well ahead of the competition. In 1998, Sybase decided to rationalise its tool set, which included about 150 disparate products. Powerbuilder, and the Java 3GL PowerJ are now part of the Enterprise Application Studio, along with the Sybase Enterprise Application Server.

What's it for?

Originally for developing two-tier client/server applications, Powerbuilder has evolved along with the market. The current version - Release 7.0 - is promoted as a bridge between client/server and Web-based applications.

What makes it special?

Powerbuilder rode the crest of the client/server wave, offering application developers a portable skill that enabled them to work with any of the leading databases.

Although the client/server tools market is fairly static, there is a huge installed base of Powerbuilder applications which now need to be enabled for e-business.

How difficult is it?

You will need experience of 3GL or 4GL programming, knowledge of relational database concepts and SQL and some understanding of event-driven programming.

There is a five-day Fast Track to Powerbuilder 7 course for people with little or no Powerbuilder experience, which will teach you to build, debug and deploy a two-tier application.

What does it run on?

Windows 95, 98 and 2000, Unix.

Where is it used?

While Sybase database tools are used mostly in the financial sector, the company claims that Powerbuilder is used in enterprise and departmental applications across all types of businesses.

Not to be confused withÉ

A tool from Black and Decker, power lifters.

Few people know that

While, for the majority of users, the term client referred to the desktop system, with the server being the larger system providing applications and data for many desktops, the terms had exactly opposite meanings in the context of X-Windows, where the desktop was called the server.

What's coming up?

E-Map for Powerbuilder, a package of methodologies, training and consulting services to Web-enable existing Powerbuilder applications .


You can train either at Sybase's London Learning Centre at Hillgate House, opposite the Old Bailey, or at one of a dozen authorised Sybase education partners (Aseps) spread throughout the UK and Ireland.

Sybase also runs a dedicated Java training centre. Courses can cost over £300 per day. To soften the blow, Sybase has a "passport to learning", which for £4,995 allows you to take all the courses you need during a 12-month period, including computer-based and online self-study courses. Sybase are offering discounts on courses booked in March.

Sybase education

Sybase Learning Connection

Rates of pay

There are far fewer Powerbuilder jobs than Visual Basic jobs to be had, but the rates are better. Typical salaries range from £45,000 for a systems analyst with Oracle in the City, to £25,000 for developers in the West Country.

Programmer £23,000
Analyst programmer £26,765
Systems developer £32,036
Senior analyst programmer £33,682

Source: SSP/Computer Weekly Survey, January 2000

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