Sybase PowerBuilder tool readied for .Net

Developers can choose Win32 or newer style .Net development

After several years of work, Sybase is now ready to move PowerBuilder users over to Microsoft's .Net programming model.

The company is offering a beta version of PowerBuilder 12, which includes two Integrated Development Environments (IDE) and a tool to move Win32 applications to the Microsoft .Net Framework. PowerBuilder 12 represents the last part of a four-phase plan that was begun in 2002, to move developers over to .Net capabilities. The beta programme is open to anyone who wants to participate, with the general release of PowerBuilder 12 due in the first half of 2010.

The beta features a rewritten version of the PowerBuilder DataWindow technology. It offers native support of Microsoft's Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) graphics subsystem and enables deployment of .Net applications that use managed code. PowerBuilder 12 will support Windows 7 when the operating system becomes available later this year.

"[PowerBuilder] simplifies development and the crown jewel of PowerBuilder is a component called the Data Window," which allows data access, data retrieval, data filtering, sorting and related capabilities, says Sue Dunnell, product manager at Sybase. With DataWindow, developers need to only write five lines of script to perform a task that might otherwise take 300 lines of C++ or C# code, she says.

PowerBuilder 12 could not have come a moment too soon for Sybase, says analyst Al Hilwa, programme director for application development software at IDC. "It has taken them a while and they've got to keep moving with this as fast as possible. Their customers are amazingly loyal and patient," Hilwa says.

IDE modules include one labeled "Classic", for Windows 32 development, and a .Net IDE for developing WPF applications on top of the Microsoft Visual Studio shell. WPF is a key component of .Net. A conversion tool, meanwhile, moves Win32 code to the .Net Framework and removes the pain of expensive migration, according to a Sybase representative.

Developers can build Win32 applications and migrate existing code to Windows Forms, WebForms, ASP.Net and WPF. Or, they can  build new WPC systems based on managed code, which provides benefits such as a security shell known as a sandbox. Also, developers can leverage plug-ins in the Visual Studio ecosystem and third-party components. Access is enabled to virtually any database management system, Sybase says.

"We're delivering what PowerBuilder developers are used to and alongside of that, we're delivering a comprehensive environment to build .Net applications," Dunnell says. Version 12, Hilwa says, allows developers to mix and match applications they already have with .Net and allows evolution into a .Net application.

Other capabilities include visual Inheritance for WPF windows and user objects, involving the ability to inherit capabilities from Windows or controls. Visual drag-and-drop from the solution explorer capability in PowerBuilder 12  tool offers access to properties, methods, and controls in WPF windows.

Sybase has had to alter its .Net plan to incorporate capabilities for technologies such as WPF, Windows Communication Foundation and the Silverlight rich internet application plug-in technology. "Phase 4 was supposed to make building .Net applications a PowerBuilder experience, but Microsoft moved forward and really changed what .Net meant," Dunnell says.

To accommodate changes in .Net, Sybase last year released PowerBuilder 11.5 , which offers client-server development. Sybase needed an extra year to incorporate WPF, Dunnell says.

PowerBuilder costs US$2995 for a new licence. Other purchasing options, such as updates, are also available.

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