Sybase Inc’s competitors must be worried: for a month or so they’ve been offering their opinions of the next generation of Sybase’s 4GL application development tool, PowerBuilder 6.0, which only made it to beta on Monday. The words stones and glasshouses spring to mind. However whether the PowerBuilder franchise is still as important going forward as it used to be given the ubiquity of Microsoft Corp Visual Basic is a matter of dispute. Sybase says its PowerBuilder business grew 20% last year. Rivals suggest that if developer want to write components currently, why should they use anything but Visual Basic? Because it doesn’t support inheritance for one, Sybase says. Although Sybase may be slow introducing Web and Java support compared to other companies, even competitors agree it’s a solid tool for client/server development. Even Oracle will eventually recommend its own Sedona object tools for component development over Visual Basic in future and it still has to add Java and C++ support to its Designer 2000 application code generator which currently only supports Visual Basic. What’s clear is that PowerBuilder 6.0 remains a very Sybase-centric environment for now. 6.0’s new Component Factory technology, which enables developers to wrap up programming components and store them in PowerBuilder for future use, won’t be extended to generate Microsoft COM/DCOM components until next year. A beta version of the COM/DCOM generator is due by year-end, while a version which can generate OMG Corba objects is still further out over the horizon. They’re both 6.x items. Over time, developers will be able to deploy PowerBuilder- generated components not only against PowerBuilder servers, but also Microsoft Corp’s ‘Viper’ Transaction Server and Sybase’s own Jaguar Component Transaction Server, which hosts components. PowerBuilder will communicate with Jaguar using OLE proxies. Sybase will ship component generators for the native PowerBuilder object model and C++ with the initial PowerBuilder 6.0 release.
6.0 is claimed to support a broader range of thin client and Unix platforms than previous releases and can also generate standard HTML forms from the DataWindow modeling tool. 6.0’s Java proxy generator allows middle-tier PowerBuilder business rules to be accessed from remote Java clients. Due to beta later this year, it will produce PowerBuilder component proxies as Java classes. PowerBuilder uses proxies to represent remote components locally on a client machine, and to manage communications with remote components through direct proxy-to-component connections. In Java form, proxies generated by PowerBuilder will be deployable on any web client, Sybase claims; present PowerBuilder components as Java classes; and provide direct connectivity between Java clients and PowerBuilder logic components. In short, PowerBuilder runtimes will execute on the server, not the client. In 6.0, DataWindow and Windows objects can be deployed as ActiveX components within browsers supporting ActiveX. The WebPB version of Distributed PowerBuilder enables PowerBuilder applications to be called from within a browser. What this isn’t, is an end-to- end Java solution, nor does it feature the ability to invoke PowerBuilder from say a JavaBean. That’s the one thing for sure that will feature in PowerBuilder 7.0. Sybase says it’s still working to decide the rest of the feature list. Currently the only way to invoke Java from PowerBuilder 4GL is by a rather clunky process where a Java runtime is downloaded as an ActiveX (OCX) runtime. The interim solution is Sybase’s PowerJ 3GL toolset. A new file synchronization tool can be used to automatically maintain up-to-date client side images of files including the PowerBuilder VM and application executables. 6.0 will support developers using HP-UX and AIX in addition to Solaris, NT and Windows 95. It’s due to ship by year-end. Interesting that Sybase has chosen to name its new component generator/wrapper technology the Component Factory. Cheltenham, Gloucestershire-based Select Softwa
re Tools plc calls its multi- platform wrapping and modeling application tools – which work with PowerBuilder – the Select Component Factory, for which it has a trademark.