Mastering PowerBuilder 5.0 is tough but worth the effort

PowerBuilder, the premier environment for rapid development of
database front ends and standalone applications, has a steep learning curve for novices.
But important new features in Version 5.0 for Microsoft Windows, set for release early
next month, make the scholarship worthwhile.


PowerBuilder 5.0's visual tools deliver power and flexibility not found anywhere else.
There's a source-code control system, a rich text format editor, an object repository and
comprehensive support for Object Linking and Embedding 2.0 container classes and OCX
objects.


PowerBuilder 5.0 can compile applications into object code rather than just
pseudo-code. This promises performance significantly better than with older PowerBuilder
applications.


My tests showed that a compiled PowerBuilder 5.0 application runs just about as fast as
an application written and compiled in C. And it's easier to partition applications into
client and server portions.


PowerBuilder 5.0 incorporates two new objects, the Connectivity object and the
Transport object, that give more control over which components execute on the server and
which on the desktop. Version 5.0 also begins to support parent Sybase Inc.'s Internet
strategy through ActiveX/OCX controls and browser plug-ins.


PowerSoft Corp. has promised that PowerBuilder soon will let users create distributed
objects across the World Wide Web with Microsoft's Internet Server Application Programming
Interface, the Common Gateway Interface or the Netscape API (NSAPI). ActiveX controls
should smooth out a process that today is long, hard to understand and error-prone.


Right now, Internet support is shallow and cursory, but if PowerSoft can deliver on its
promises, PowerBuilder applications will be right at home on an enterprise intranet.


The new release comes in three versions:


*Desktop, which has the full 32-bit PowerBuilder integrated development environment, a
single-user license of SQL Anywhere relational database manager from Sybase Inc. in
Emeryville, Calif., and a limited selection of Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) drivers.


*Professional, which adds the PowerBuilder Foundation Class Library, a full set of ODBC
drivers and source-code control.


*Enterprise, which piles on testing tools, system management software, interfaces to
client-server open development environment (CODE) products and PowerSoft's ObjectCycle
object repository.


I installed the Enterprise edition on a 100-MHz 486DX4 with 16M of memory, running
Microsoft Windows 95. PowerBuilder 5.0 took up about 114M of storage without the ODBC
drivers, which I didn't use. The software performed acceptably with no excess waiting time
for launching and maneuvering through windows and controls.


PowerSoft supplies 16- and 32-bit versions on the installation CD-ROM. You can install
the 32-bit version on a Windows NT or Win95 system and still compile 16-bit applications
for delivery on Windows 3.x machines.


Applications are built with what PowerSoft calls painters, or visual controls on the
Power Bar, that can be positioned anywhere in the workspace and customized. You first
specify a library to locate your work, then start building with any of the dozens of
painters. Or you can start from PowerBuilder's application template.


The template provides a set of windows and menu items to get a default application up
and running in minutes. You can modify the default items to customize the shell--the way
to go if you're a beginner or if you need to deliver a simple application in a hurry.


The template comes with a default script, or you can write your own script to specify
any activities that must occur before the application is displayed to the end user as well
as the order of window displays.


The most important PowerBuilder painter is the Data Window, which peeks into a
relational database so you can select tables and fields and define queries, entirely
without using the Structured Query Language.


With the application template and Data Window painter, along with a demo database
provided with the package, I wrote a simple application in less than 30 minutes to access
and display data. More sophisticated applications take more time, but it should be
possible to deliver custom applications for most enterprise needs within days.


There seems to be no limit to how large or complex you can make PowerBuilder
applications--no sense that you've maxed out the software on a big project. What takes
days or weeks in C can be done with PowerBuilder in hours. Of course, the novice will need
substantial time to get to that point, but the return on investment is worth it.


PowerBuilder 5.0 versions for Digital Equipment Corp. Alpha NT computers, Apple
Macintoshes and Unix platforms are slated for release in late 1996.


Peter D. Varhol is chairman of the graduate computer science department at Rivier
College in Nashua, N.H.


PowerSoft Corp.,


Concord, Mass.; tel. 508-287-1500


http://www.PowerSoft.com  


Price: $2,995 for Enterprise edition as tested


Overall grade: A[--]


[+] Comprehensive client-server rapid development tool with class library, true
compilation and source-code control


[--] Non-intuitive user interface and lots of new features to learn


Real-life requirements:


Windows NT or Win95 system with 16M RAM, CD-ROM drive and substantial free room
on hard drive



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