|By Chris Pollach||
|June 24, 2008 04:15 PM EDT||
I have been asked many times by various clients, students, and the IT curious about PowerBuilder: When did Sybase develop the product and how did it evolve? I keep telling this story and answering e-mails on the subject. I am now to the point where I have decided that I should have PBDJ formally publish this story for posterity. This story is solely from my own personal perspective and I'm sure that I may have a somewhat distorted view of time and space (which keeps getting worse at my age). But anyway, here is a perspective of how life (as a DataWindow) began.
Episode I - The Phantom Product
In a galaxy, far, far away... before Sybase... PowerBuilder was developed as a prototype by Cullinet Database Systems of Boston. Cullinet was the developer of the IDMS DBMS and ADS-Online (Application Development System). IDMS was originally developed by BF Goodrich, the tire company, in London, Ontario, Canada, and sold to Cullinane (that later changed their name to Cullinet) located in Boston, Massachusetts. They had an early PC product called "Golden Gate," which proved that you could do GUI client/server application development with mainframe DBMSs. Originally DOS based, Golden Gate was then converted to run under MS Windows. Cullinet also realized that PC-based DBMSs and development tools were on the immediate horizon (1984). Cullinet had an enormous success with ADS-Online (327x-based RAD development tool) and wanted to see if a similar GUI-based tool could be developed. The main features of ADSO included RAD; real-time design, programming, compiling, and debugging; and interactive prototyping. It also used a centralized Data Dictionary, interfaced with various CASE tools, and could deploy to production from development.
In 1984, when I was the technical support manager for Cullinet Canada, Cullinet started their Personal Computer ADSO prototype, which would later become PowerBuilder. The project leader was Dave Litwack, who was in charge of the ADSO product and IDMS-DC (data communications - teleprocessing system and CICS equivalent product). Dave had a great understanding of RAD development tools and telecommunications because of his Cullinet experience. The new product was to have the same key functionality as ADSO (interesting that ORCA was basically working in 1985 in the PowerBuilder prototype because ADSO/IDMS had it), but also added a real key feature: "a smart data aware object." At that time Cullinet was experimenting with a feature called LRF (Logical Record Facility) and DB stored procedures. This object would encapsulate data handling away from the application, but would be a client piece, so there was no dependency on any DBMS.
For the first part of the prototype, Dave chose a real keen "C" programmer named Kim Sheffield. John Griffin - a friend of mine from Ottawa, Ontario - was also recruited by Dave. John was an excellent mainframe assembler programmer and wanted to cross over to C. Dave had him build the "Menu" painter. In later years, John married Julie, another Cullinet developer, and she would help rewrite the Menu Painter and add Remote Debugging to PB for EAServer.
Dave also wanted to have the new tool that was fully OO - object oriented. The C++ language was coming on strong and SmallTalk was the "talk of the town" for serious OO programmers. Dave wanted PowerBuilder to adopt the SmallTalk OO principles but make it easy for the business developer to use.
In 1985 a crude prototype was shown to the Cullinet inside circle. The product's potential was immediately expounded by senior management (one of those being Bobby Orr - the hockey legend [another good story I can tell you sometime] - who was on the board of directors of Cullinet at that time). Unfortunately, Cullinet had serious challenges for various takeover bids by different companies, including CA (Computer Associates). CA at that time had already purchased DataCom and wanted Cullinet for IDMS. CA's mentality then was to buy out the competition, sell off any non-key products, and milk the maintenance contracts of key clients. With little or no development personnel (fired), there was no overhead and all profit. In 1986, CA was successful on a hostile takeover of Cullinet. The new PC product was considered non-essential and all developers were let go (that is why today I will never buy a CA product)!
Episode II - The Little Droid that Could
In 1986, PowerSoft was developing business applications for the VAX platform. PowerSoft also realized the PC development arena was about to explode and started looking around for a leading-edge GUI development tool. They hired an independent consultant, Dave Litwack, to help advise them on exactly what they should be looking for. At that time, Gupta's SQLWindows was the only serious product. Other than that you had to get down and code "C," which was not what PowerSoft wanted business programmers to use. Dave mentioned his involvement with Cullinet and their last prototyping effort. PowerSoft approached CA and asked if they could acquire the prototype code (originally done in C). CA said that they had looked at the PB prototype and that they concluded that there was no future in it (duh) - so give us a few bucks for the code and good luck with it!
In 1988, three years after the original concept prototype, PowerSoft had the code and Dave (now hired by PowerSoft) was able to hire the other programmers who worked on the original prototype (what a fluke) as they were looking for some challenging work at that time as well. PowerSoft then christened the new product "PowerBuilder" and began to enhance the code. Since they were a business solutions developer, they used PowerBuilder internally to recode and replace their VAX products. Testing was "hands-on" and very intensive under real-world developer scenarios. To get funding for this intense effort, PowerSoft partnered with HP. HP gave them a blank check after seeing a demonstration (they are also responsible for the Tilde "O" format [~Onn] for "octal" as HP was an 8-bit machine in those days). PowerBuilder became an internal standard at HP.
At Microsoft's Redmond office, the people in charge of internal systems were faced with the same problems PowerSoft was trying to resolve - they needed a tool for business developers. They contacted their friends at HP and were told that PowerBuilder was the only up-and-coming tool they should look at. In early 1989, Microsoft purchased licenses for PB and was the second worldwide user. The "Royal Australian Air Force" was the first official user - makes me proud as I'm an Australian from Cooma, NSW.
When I was four years old my dad took me to the University of Sydney where he was using the SILLIAC I (Sydney version of the Illinois Automatic Computer) - the first commercial computer ever built (http://members.iinet.net.au/~dgreen/silliac.html) to do the stress and strain calculations on the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric power dams (largest hydro generation in the world even today: www.snowyhydro.com.au ), which is where I met the first "debugger" in the world ... but that's another story. The Snowy Hydro is still an active PowerBuilder site even today. Even Microsoft used PowerBuilder for their Inventory Management System, MS University Scheduling System, etc., and was "blown" away with its data prowess - especially this new object called the "DataWindow" (thanks Kim).
Episode III - The "Force"
In 1989 I was doing a project for the Canadian government on behalf of Revenue Canada and Treasury Board. My task was to evaluate emerging RDBMS technology and propose the top three to be recommended to all government departments. I completed that in the late summer of 1989. One of the contenders was Microsoft's SQLServer (which was a port of the release 4.x version of Sybase's SQLServer to the OS/2 platform). To verify the final benchmark results, I had a representative from each DBMS vendor drop in and tweak their environments and concur with my approach and results.
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