From the Editor-in-Chief of PowerBuilder Developer's Journal

Bruce Armstrong

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PowerBuilder: Article

PowerBuilder Editorial: A Tale of Two Companies...

'Making difficult things easy and impossible things possible'

The first is Borland. Originally known for their development tools (e.g., Delphi, JBuilder, C++ Builder), in February of 2006 Borland announced they were planning to sell off the Development Tools Group so that they could focus on Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) product offerings. In November of 2006, after failing to find a buyer that met their criteria, they decided to spin off the development group into a wholly owned subsidiary called CodeGear. Just recently (two years after the original notice of the intent to sell) Borland announced that they were in fact selling the CodeGear subsidiary to Embarcadero Technologies, a vendor of database design and management products. Interestingly enough, Embarcadero is roughly the same size as CodeGear, so it looks more like a merger. Embarcadero is owned by a private equity firm (Thoma Cressey Bravo) that also just took InstallShield and FlexNet off of Macrovision's hands and created a company called Acresso Software with them.

Time will tell how wise that decision is. Borland has stumbled a few times in the past, such as purchasing dBase in 1991, renaming itself to Inprise in 1998 (it was renamed back to Borland in 2001), and the attempted merger with Corel in 2000. What I find interesting (and troubling) about Borland's development tools group is that they are in somewhat the same position as Sybase is with PowerBuilder. They've got some development tools that were highly popular for a while, and then have lost popularity as Java and .NET have taken hold of the market. Borland's response was to provide a version of Delphi in 2003 that compiled to the Common Intermediate Language (CIL) - (formerly called the Microsoft Intermediate Language or MSIL). It wasn't until the next version (2005) that native Win32 support came back in. Meanwhile, in 2003, they also released a separate product (C# Builder) as a direct competitor to Visual Studio. However, despite their embrace of .NET, the products apparently haven't been selling well enough for Borland to want to continue them in their product line.

The second is HTC; known for their PDA Phones and SmartPhones, and more recently for their Touch Phones. They recently announced the latest phone in the Touch series, the HTC Touch Diamond, which is equipped with an updated version of the TouchFLO interface called TouchFLO 3D, a VGA screen (four times the pixels of most phones), a 3.2 megapixel camera, a 3G (HSDPA - 7.2Mbps) connection for Internet access and internal GPS. It comes with the Opera-based browser and a custom YouTube application. The unit has a motion sensor to automatically switch orientation as the unit is turned, but no hardware keyboard. It comes with 4GB of built-in memory, but no additional memory slot. HTC is predicting that they will sell 3 million of the handsets in the first year. That's highly likely given that they sold 2 million of the HTC Touch model in its first year (and 3 million to date), and the Touch Diamond overcomes many of the limitations of the HTC Touch. Apple, with all the buzz about the iPhone, sold 4 million units, so the HTC Touch Diamond makes (in my opinion) a worthy competitor. Since the HTC Touch Diamond is Windows Mobile 6.1 based, there's already a number of applications and development tools that will work with it, whereas the software development kit for the iPhone has yet to be released. It is also more likely that it won't be limited to working on a single carrier network, nor would I expect the plans to be as highly priced as the iPhone plans.

What's interesting to note about many of the reviews for the HTC Touch Diamond is that the reviewers are particular impressed with the phone given that it's based on Windows Mobile. For example, Doug Aamoth in a review in his PCWorld blog noted "HTC's done a wonderful job of hiding the Windows Mobile OS on the Touch Diamond. If it wasn't for the tiny Windows logo start button in the upper left hand corner and the familiar Windows Mobile connection icons in the upper right hand corner, most people wouldn't likely notice that the Touch Diamond is a Windows Mobile device." That is, while many folks consider Windows Mobile to be an asset, because we want to develop on that platform, many of the reviewers consider it a liability because the user interface is so difficult to manipulate.

That's what encourages me, because I see in this something else that relates to the situation that Sybase faces with PowerBuilder. .NET development can be hard. What PowerBuilder has been about from its inception is "making difficult things easy and impossible things possible." That's what Sybase intends to do with PowerBuilder 12. It won't be just an alternative IDE, like Borland's C# Builder. It will be an IDE that will allow .NET developers to be more productive. The HTC example tells me that it is possible to take something that Microsoft has made available, but has made difficult, and create a demand for a product that makes it simpler.

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
kpkeller 08/22/08 12:46:34 PM EDT

good luck, Sybase. I left PB development 14 months ago and have not looked back. I hope PB 12 does well. i've been doing asp.net and ajax development ever since along with the datawindow.net component and it's been GREAT!