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PowerBuilder: Article

How PowerBuilder Got Its Groove Back

Addressing the needs of both new and existing customers

PBDJ Feature Story

One of the main issues that PowerBuilder and PowerBuilder developers have been facing for the last few years is the lack of mind share for the product. Interest in PowerBuilder - as measured by news articles in Google's archive - ramped up from its inception in 1991 until it hit its peak in 1996 with the release of PowerBuilder 5.0. It dropped a bit off the peak but remained steady until it peaked again in 2003 with the release of PowerBuilder 9.0 and PocketBuilder 1.0. It's been dropping steadily since then though, with the current activity about that of 1993. A look at Google trends also shows the rapid decline in search activity since 2004 (as far back as Trends has data). That is most likely the reason in the last year or so that PowerBuilder keeps dropping off the end of the Tiobe Index.

All that seems to have changed with Sybase's announcement of the beta of PowerBuilder 12.0. Articles on the release appeared in a large number of IT-related news outlets, including Darryl K Taft in eWeek, Sam M Fulton III in BetaNews, David Worthington in Software Development Times, Eric J Bruno in Doctor Dobbs, John K Waters in both Visual Studio Magazine and Application Development Trends and Paul Krill in ComputerWorld, InfoWorld and IT World. There were also articles covering the beta announcement in Application Development & SOA and Database Trends and Applications. If you take another look at the Google Trends data, you'll see the spike in news articles at the far left of the bottom graph. It's the highest amount of news coverage concerning PowerBuilder since the data was collected, with only the release of PowerBuilder 11.5 coming close. Yakov Werde also posted an article on DevX concerning the beta.

As an aside, if you've taken any official Sybase PowerBuilder training classes, particularly at TechWave, you probably know who Yakov is. He was responsible for creating much of the courseware and delivering many of the sessions. If not, you can find out more about him from a previous PBDJ interview with him or his online CV. His new company, eLearnIT, is definitely the place you want to go if you want more training in PowerBuilder or other IT-related items.

Sybase also sponsored a white paper from IDC on the PowerBuilder 12.0 release. I always view a white paper sponsored by the company that makes the product being evaluated with a grain of salt, but the IDC white paper does seem rather "fair and balanced." It notes the high degree of productivity that PowerBuilder facilitates as well as the unusually strong loyalty among the user base. It hints that future versions of PowerBuilder may end up generating MSIL instead of C# and support for Silverlight. It's also realistic, noting that one of the challenges that Sybase faces is executing their plan for PowerBuilder 12 while also ensuring that it is a complete implementation. As they note, PowerBuilder developers are under considerable pressure to move to other development tools. A failure to deliver in a timely manner or the delivery of a non-quite-fully-baked solution will most likely provide a rationale for many shops to move to other toolsets.

The white paper also refers to another challenge related to the subject of this editorial. They indicate that there is a perception problem with the product that limits its ability to attract new customers. They recommend the "m-word" (marketing) in order to create additional buzz about the new capabilities of the product. I'd have to agree. Press releases and favorable articles create some buzz, but additional action is necessary if Sybase wants to do something with PowerBuilder other than stem the flow of existing customers moving away from it. Further, doing the kind of promotion that brings in new customers will also help regain the mind share that will further bolster the efforts of existing customers who are wondering if they shouldn't move on. As I've noted in previous editorials, PowerBuilder seems to be the development communities best kept secret, and the main reason that many shops consider moving away from it isn't a problem with the product, it's a problem with finding people who know how to use it. Making the product attractive to new developers by promoting it so that they know about it will go a long way to addressing the needs of both new and existing customers.

More Stories By Bruce Armstrong

Bruce Armstrong is a development lead with Integrated Data Services (www.get-integrated.com). A charter member of TeamSybase, he has been using PowerBuilder since version 1.0.B. He was a contributing author to SYS-CON's PowerBuilder 4.0 Secrets of the Masters and the editor of SAMs' PowerBuilder 9: Advanced Client/Server Development.

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Most Recent Comments
[email protected] 12/06/09 05:33:00 PM EST

Bruce,

Excellent and insightful article!!

Sybase has a fabulous product in PowerBuilder. It is a shame that developers are under pressure to move away from it. Your note that there may not be enough PowerBuilder developers is a chicken and egg problem for Sybase.

Sybase needs to be agressive in several areas to reverse the tide.

1) The pricing has to change. Would it not be better to have many thousands of people buying it for half of its current list price rather than rely on a handful of stalwart believers?

2) Training materials need to be provided for free. You need to think several years out and gain a cult following (again...) to ensure that individuals pickup the product and run with it (and then show their boss what cool things they can accomplish).

3) Sybase must be agressive in getting PowerBuilder on the curriculum wherever IT is taught.

4) The trial licenses need to last 90 days. Microsoft does it. You can't expect someone to be up to speed in 30 days with no available training and buy it.

5) The desktop version needs to be a give away, just like Visual Studio Express.

The product management team at Sybase has done a fantastic job and I roundly cheer their efforts. The product marketing team, I fear, is saddled with management that is thinking short term and and focused on revenues instead of building a cult following.

Personally, I have had problems with development proposals because my client has some friend somewhere that he/she shares the proposal with and the word comes back that there is a strong concern about using PowerBuilder. It should be just the opposite.

As loyal PowerBuilder users, Sybase should have our back when it comes to making the PowerBuilder choice. Right now it is not there.

I would be interested in comments from the marketing group at Sybase on subject.

Thank you for writing the article, Bruce.

Paul Murray
Director
Interrasys, LLC