PowerBuilder – Dominates Business App Development for 2 Decades

PB Gold MetalPowerBuilder is the best development language for most vertical market business applications. Yes, this article was written in 2014, and it was written by a developer of twenty years who has written PowerBuilder, Microsoft, and Java applications.


PowerBuilder silences critics or over a decade

The PowerBuilder critics started to appear before the end off the first century of PowerBuilder’s life. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s there were two words coming from every IT shop. Like sex, everyone was talking about it, but nobody was doing it. the words were, ‘Web Applications”.

If it wasn’t web enabled than it wasn’t cool and when IT budgets had some juice in them it wasn’t too hard for a shop to jump ship for Microsoft and do okay.

The business environment has changed drastically as we approached 2010 when IT budgets started to become paper thin with no wiggle room. Well, this is the environment where PowerBuilder still shines and the reason we’ve got legacy PB apps that have no end in sight.

PB gets the job done quickly for a fast changing and nimble business. Microsoft teams are frantically trying to keep up especially if they did not adhere to rock-solid programming design from the beginning. The Java teams are having quality problems as components surrounding Java change rapidly, or certain components require upgrade and problems occur as a result.

A PowerBuilder deployment is still fifteen minutes away, and you pretty much bank on not seeing any issues that are caused by the tool itself. Try that with Java. Try deploying a Java application without hours of regression testing and you’ll get burned much more often than with PowerBuilder. I am not implying that corners be cut, but it happens and PowerBuilder will shine 9 times out of 10 when this happens.

Critics of PowerBuilder – Common Statements

The critics said PB was dead before the year 2000. The critics said it was dead after the year 2000. The critics say PowerBuilder is dead now. I respectfully disagree and, for those critics I ask these questions:

  • Why are the complex PowerBuilder applications still in production so difficult to replace, why is it taking so long?
  • Why are end-users pushing back on technology changes away from PowerBuilder?
  • Why has SAP, fully supported and taken PowerBuilder into its catalog of high-quality applications?
  • Why are some PowerBuilder developers abandoning newer tools and returning to PowerBuilder?


Born Again PowerBuilder Developers

PowerBuilder Born Again

PowerBuilder Born Again

There has been a small steady stream of Microsoft or Java developers returning to PowerBuilder.

I have a good idea why and have already explained my thoughts on the subject.

Here is a quote that I came across today. It is dated but more pertinent now considering the stable future PowerBuilder has with SAP compared with Sybase.

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.

full article here

Why Business Prefers PowerBuilder Applications

Here are the most common responses I hear from the business when discussing PowerBuilder and non-PowerBuilder department-level business applications.


POSITIVE For PowerBuilder

  • Best able to keep up with rapid business rule changes.
  • Best able to keep up with rapid government or corporate policy changes.
  • Best able to implement productivity improvements based on user feedback.
  • Best able to match functionality and business rules without compromise compared to shrink-wrapped corporate systems.
  • Better performance than the typical shrink-wrapped corporate level systems.
  • Less push-back on requests for changes to functionality.
  • It is supported by a World class company until 2022.
  • Third party quality reporting built in.


NEGATIVE For PowerBuilder

  • Not enough PB training material, this is getting better. See my blog over at the SAP Developer Community for PowerBuilder, and create your own profile!
  • Not enough developers
  • High cost of developers (we like this)
  • Lack of exposure in colleges, less available developers
  • High cost of the tool itself (easily justified) compared to free
  • Less-cool IDE, not as refined as competitors (but close)
  • The delay in support for latest version of the .NET Framework. (e.g. PB12.5 supports .Net 4; PB12 .Net 3.5, etc.)


Exceptions, Internet Apps & Corporate Wide Apps

PowerBuilder isn’t the best solution for all business applications. If I were a business owner PowerBuilder would be used for all business apps not requiring internet access. With recent advancements in PowerBuilder the internet argument is beginning to mean less. PowerBuilder has been moving closer to full internet support in recent versions. The internet functionality is a little rough on the edges but is close.


I’m not anti-Microsoft or anything– I actually have more fun using Microsoft tools because the IDE is more refined with better intellisence, online help, and availability of top-notch learning material. The documentation available for Microsoft technologies rivals that of PowerBuilder and Java by light-years.

Enterprise Java has proven itself to be a worthy platform when developing mission critical business applications and very large corporate systems requiring extreme scale-ability and reliability under heavy load, and inter/intranet deployment and availability.

The Microsoft bandwagon – how it increases development budgets

  • Third party tool expenses required to bring Microsoft in the same ballpark of productivity
  • Much lower productivity in apps having more complexity than marketing examples
  • Rapid changes in direction by Microsoft is killing IT managers (not literally)

The Java bandwagon – how it increases development budgets

  • Use of numerous frameworks and technologies for which each is changing rapidly. The combination of dozens of technologies that are rapidly changing, having poor and out dated documentation has an obvious negative impact on development budgets.
  • Serious learning curve
  • Politics of Open Source based technologies is costly to business in many ways.
  • Bloated code, less-than-stellar performance partly due to the politics and decisions for backward compatibility support in the language.
  • Number of failed projects. This is obviously opinionated and subjective but I have witnessed too many Java projects canned entirely after months or years with no deliverable.


Summary – PB has a niche and we admit this article was not fair and balanced

Well, this is primarily a PowerBuilder blog so it will be slanted in that direction. I do believe PowerBuilder to be an amazing tool and I would use it in my own business before other technologies. I hope we can agree that PowerBuilder does still have a niche in the IT market albeit much smaller than it was a decade ago and that unless IT budgets start gaining weight PB will be around for a while.

If you are looking for PowerBuilder traning, than bookmark my three year accumulation of solid PowerBuilder training links. If you are looking for professional paid training I know that Yakov Werde has courses. I have not had the privilege of viewing them but can attest to Yakov’s expertise in PowerBuilder. His training site is at Yakov Werde’s courses.

You can also find PowerBuilder videos on PowerBuilder.TV. They do require registration on their site before you can view videos.


One response

  1. Does my comment entry box look messed up to anyone else? It looks completely screwed up when I am logged in and sometimes I am not able to reply which leads me to believe that others are not able to comment. I must be using a plug-in that is causing problems…

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