Everyone Says PowerBuilder Is Dead – But Is It Dead?

Being a career PowerBuilder developer like myself, I keep a close eye on the marketplace and where I think PowerBuilder is headed.  Part of the reason that I stick with the tool is because I believe it is technically superior to most of the other development tools out there but the competition is catching up.  Microsoft has been trying to catch up for years unfortunately they cannot stay focused on something long enough to make it “great” like PowerBuilder did.  Java has a very nice niche in the market, well niche may be too strong a word as Java is very alive in the corporate world with large enterprise applications but it has never reached critical mass like PowerBuilder did and probably never will.

Will PowerBuilder ever be the tool of choice again?  Highly unlikely but not impossible.

Is PowerBuilder staging a come-back, or is it in a final dead-cat-bounce?

Checking PowerBuilder’s Pulse – Quiet Please – Yes We Have A Pulse

There really is no fool proof way to determine whether a technology is on the rise or decline however, there are some things you can use as a guideline.

  • PowerBuilder Job Listings
  • PowerBuilder Developer Rates
  • PowerBuilder Information (e.g. Blogs, Articles, Questions, Books)
  • Search Engine Statistics

PowerBuilder Job Listings

It is my opinion that PowerBuilder jobs are more plentiful in 2012 than they were in 2010-2011.  I have also noticed that rates are about the same as they were when PowerBuilder was at it’s peak and most companies are becoming very flexible to catch a top-notch PB developer.  It is becoming quite common to get work-from-home contracts doing PB, and the companies not offering this perk are having difficulty finding qualified developers.  I know of a few companies having problems getting developers and I won’t mention any names but they can’t get beyond the old belief that if you aren’t sitting at your office desk then you aren’t working mentality.

My current contract is a WFH, and I do travel to the office occasionally if needed, but generally speaking I am as productive or more productive working from home.  We use several tools to bridge the communication gap that is lost when people are not physically working together, such as instant messenger and online collaboration tools.  We also meet often via conference call to make sure communication channels are wide open.  Before I started doing WFH, I traveled on a weekly basis for several months to get familiar with the business and people and I feel that initial time at the company was important.  Anyway I digress.. the subject of this article isn’t about working from home.

PowerBuilder Developer Rates

PB contract rates seem to be about the same as they were when PB was in it’s prime. In the 20 years I’ve been doing PowerBuilder development I have seen many different rates but they tend to be focused in the $50-60/hourly area and have not changed much since the ’90’s

  • Senior PB Developer in D.C Area might command $80-$90 hourly
  • Senior PB Developer in most areas will be able to pull $50-$60’s hourly
  • I have seen rates as low as the $40’s hourly but they are typically for desirable contracts or remote office (work from home) situations.


PowerBuilder Information & Demand For PB Info

I use statistics from this website to help me decide which way things are headed.  This site has had increases in traffic since its’ start in March of 2012 and most searches are for PowerBuilder information.  Based on the demand for articles on this website it appears that PowerBuilder is making some sort of a come-back; or at minimum a dead-cat-bounce.  Many of the searches leading to this website are questions about converting or migrating from another technology so that isn’t overly positive.

PowerBuilder Search Engine Statistics

I recently found a tool that is pretty neat for checking out trends, it is called just that… Google Trends.  You can use Google Trends to see how a particular search term has increased or decreased over time.

Google Trends confirms PowerBuilder has been on a very long decline from its’ peak.  Google Trends only goes back to 2004 so it is difficult to see exactly when PB peaked.  There seems to be some evidence that interest in PowerBuilder is slowly increasing in 2012.

PowerBuilder – The long and steady decline








PowerBuilder Comeback – Or PowerBuilder Dead-Cat-Bounce

The google search statistics seem to indicate an increase in searches for PB Jobs.  This could mean more people are looking and fewer jobs, but the trend typically is in alignment with the popularity of the tool.  PowerBuilder Training has a similar trend.  Interestingly Java, ASP.NET, Silverlight are all on a very noticeable downtrend.  Android development which is often accomplished via a Java based language is RED HOT right now.












The X Factor – PowerBuilder Datawindow Technology?

Why are some shops starting NEW development in PowerBuilder, are they crazy or are there still some believers out there?  Is it possible someone is asking why a staff of one PB developer is able to improve multiple legacy PB applications with high levels of customer satisfaction and without the need for third party tools to improve the UI or to perform reporting, something PB is awesome at by itself.

Many of the mainstream development languages have been incorporating very cool development methodologies (repository models, dependency injection, inversion of control,  etc.) that improve productivity and ease maintenance down the road but PowerBuilder is fully capable of implementing these methodologies which would further add to it’s ability to develop good applications.   The reverse can’t be said for the datawindow technology which is specific to PowerBuilder and the reason I am wondering if it is the “X factor”.

Imagine if the cloudy future surrounding PowerBuilder went away…  the possibilities would be exciting.  Perception is so valuable in everything we do in life and this is no exception. 


Well take the information for what it’s worth.  I think there is definitely more demand than supply for PB developers but I’m not about to stop learning new technologies and bank on PB staying alive forever.

I appreciate the comments on this article and have made a few slight corrections based on them.  If you have any strong feelings about the article one way or another let me know and I’ll consider corrections where they are warranted.




12 Responses

  1. I use both PowerBuilder and C# at work. I was working on a project for myself at home this weekend using VS 2010 and C#. I wanted to create a couple of reports for it. The built-in reporting in VS is nowhere near as powerful as PowerBuilder’s. I found myself wishing I had a copy of PB on my machine. There may be some 3rd party .Net reporting tools that would help, but out of the box, PowerBuilder is way better.

    C# is a more modern language with lots of things like generics and linq. But when it comes to writing data-centric apps quickly, I always reach for PowerBuilder.

    • Hi – just wanted to know if you could expand on your comments about PB being way easier to create some reports versus VS. We hear comments like this all the time, as well as the opposite, so I would like to understand what you find to be easier – is it all DataWindow centric functionality?

      Sue Dunnell
      PowerBuilder Product Manager, SAP

      • Hi Sue,
        I have thought about this often and have concluded that it is definitely the datawindow centric functionality that really boosts productivity. The PowerScript is very similar to .NET and Java and I enjoy using .NET better when it comes to basic scripting because the .NET framework is more robust.
        The separation of datawindow control and dataobject was really brilliant and I am surprised that no other tool has tried to copy that concept. I think separating the display/binding from the actual mechanics of data massaging and update are what sets PB apart. Nobody else has come up with a natural way to do both.

      • Hi Sue,

        I expanded on the article on my blog, it was a good suggestion. I’ll be forwarding you an email I just received separately to get your comment.


  2. You say:

    Java has a nice little niche in the market but it has never reached critical mass and probably never will.

    And then you say:

    One development language that is RED HOT right now is Android.

    But Android is not a language – guess what’s the most common language for Android development.

    Then there’s the fact that it’s the language is used on the server side for a great many sites, including some of the worlds busiest, like EBay, Amazon, etc.

    • Also – Java is currently #2 on Tiobe Index. It was #1 last year, and has been #1 or #2 since at least 2002. That’s quite a “niche”.

    • Also excellent points. I forgot that Android is basically Java. I am definitely naive when it comes to Java and am probably basing my opinion on what I’ve seen and see and they are not indicative of the market. I will add an additional note to my document with your good points.

  3. I hope that Sue Dunnell trolls the PowerObject forum on a regular basis. That is the largest PowerBuilder development forum of which I am aware.

    There are several threads regarding the future of PowerBuilder, and a lot of great comments have been posted. These include kudos, complaints, suggestions for the tool, and general feelings and opinions.

    I >>>BEG<<< SAP and the PB Development Group to troll the PowerObject forums, and to listen to what the users are saying!

    Many Thanks!

  4. I’ve been in love with PowerBuilder for the past 15 years, it’s so easy to use and I love the DataWindow, but wistfully must say I have to let it go … because every time it stay further back … not to mention that HTML5 and javascript and the web is the future and PowerBuilder has not the slightest intention of approaching these technologies. Just think about it… I was in total deny too, but in the future… all the people is going to connect to their enterprise systems in their phone or tablet or PC or anything else that maybe don’t have “Windows”, so we have to catch up… Appeon is just a rough patch (only works on windows, so I don’t see the benefit) By this I say: Thank Powerbuilder, thank you very much … but Goodbye … I can not let you drag me to your death.

  5. For building Windows data-oriented applications (used to be supported on Mac too!), nothing has ever come close to PB and the datawindow. But for the last 10 – 15 years, other technologies, particularly .NET, have pushed to the fore. PB was never good at web, and mobile has moved to the fore now. The problem has been, there simply isn’t a good data-oriented control for .NET (datawindow control was the best by far).
    I am right now evaluating whether I want to propose PowerBuilder.NET as a possibility to a new client who wants to start a new project managing their data (no mobile or web required). I may also propose another possibility, of designing it based around MS Dynamics CRM.

    • Garbanzo Bean: Some readers laughed when I was pushing WaveMaker and since then I’ve delivered two applications to production and they are “rock solid”. Not to mention it was the easiest web development platform I’ve ever used even beats ASP.NET MVC, ASP.NET, Silverlight because you can host to a crappy Linux server running apache & tomcat. Well, the latest version of WaveMaker is light years better than the last, now the tool is cloud based and they did a sweet job developing it. The tool seems to have more companies using it than ever before so who knows maybe my one-in-a-million pick of WaveMaker wasn’t as funny as some people thought. I can’t wait to create my next Java application with WaveMaker. I am having problems with figuring out the hosting of multiple apache websites (subdomains) along with a few subdomains that are Tomcat. Getting rid of the port 8080 in the URL is a nightmare- I would pay someone to set this up for me and teach me how it is done because I’ve spun my wheels for a few days. I have not used PowerBuilder in a while– and get the feeling that my PB days are over. For one I feel betrayed by SAP, felt somehow they would appreciate what I’ve done in the community as I am NOT making money here. Most of my day-job stuff is doing NetSuite development, it is really fun I get to learn the entire company and am responsible for all NetSuite changes for the company, and report to executive management on a daily basis. Also some .NET and Microsoft SQL Server.
      dislacedguy.com – WordPress served by apache (subdomain)
      otown411.com – WordPress served by apache (primary)
      x-ref.us – WaveMaker Java application running on Tomcat 8. I want to be able to type domain and have it run the XREFUS program
      warm-turkey.com – WaveMaker Java application running on Tomcat 8. Want it to work like x-ref.us but different program HalfLife.
      This really sucks, don’t enjoy moving around Linux, finding all the config files, how to restart apache, how to restart tomcat, httpd.conf, Virtual Hosts, and connectors. Too much detail that should be hidden!!! Apache & Tomcat are the real weak links in Java development in my experience, everyone has a different way of doing things and finding help is hard because each solution is different.

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