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Author's profile photo Rob Verschoor

A Deeper Look At Sybase: PowerBuilder and PowerDesigner

In the A Deeper Look At Sybase, today we’ll look at PowerBuilder and PowerDesigner. Despite a certain similarity in their names, these two products actually have very little to do with each other.

  • Sybase PowerBuilder is a RAD tool that lets you develop rich GUI applications, based on the DataWindow concept. I’ve been told that part of the SAP POS module is actually developed with PowerBuilder.
  • Sybase PowerDesigner is a modeling tool that lets you handle anything from a data model to a full enterprise architecture, and is widely seen as one of the best such tools around.

Both PowerBuilder and PowerDesigner are not tied to any specific database and will work with most common database brands.

Now, I won’t claim to have much understanding of either product myself. When it comes to PowerDesigner I know how use it to reverse-engineer a database schema, but for the other 99% of its functionality I’m just ignorant. For PowerBuilder, I’m not even claiming to be familiar with that much.
Therefore, rather than trying to make up some story myself, I invited Dave Fish and David Dichmann of Sybase who kindly agreed to lay out the basics of their favorite products. Their contributions are below. Gentlemen, the floor is yours….

Sybase PowerBuilder
by Dave Fish, PowerBuilder Evangelist

It is hard to believe that PowerBuilder will celebrate its 20th birthday in July. There aren’t a lot of software products that are still going strong after 20 years and I think this longevity serves as a testament to the product’s strength and agility. When PowerBuilder was first released, people were just starting to use this new operating system called Windows on their PCs. PowerBuilder quickly gained fame for making Windows application development fast and easy, especially when it came to accessing data stored in relational databases through its award winning, patented DataWindow technology.

The DataWindow is what really made PowerBuilder famous and after 20 years there still is no rival technology that comes close to matching its power, ease of use, or database independence. With its visual SQL Designer, developers can “paint” their SQL queries, joining multiple tables and selecting columns with the click of a mouse. The DataWindow makes data retrieval, inserts, updates, and deletes as simple as a few function calls. What takes 50 lines of code (or more) in C++ or Java can be accomplished in five lines in PowerBuilder. But that’s only the beginning. Besides making data access easy, the DataWindow makes creating the application’s data presentation layer even easier. Developers can visually arrange columns, add calculations, and format the data in the DataWindow painter. Runtime functions for sorting and filtering data and dynamically adding or deleting columns make it possible to alter a data entry form or report programmatically based on business rules or application logic. With a dozen different presentation styles including grid, crosstab, rich text, tree view, and graphing, data visualization has never been easier. The DataWindow works with virtually any SQL database via ADO .NET, JDBC, ODBC, OLE DB, or native drivers for Oracle, Sybase ASE, Microsoft SQL Server and Informix, as well as DB2 (but not with a native driver). It also works with web services, and with XML.

In the world of software application development a lot has changed in the past twenty years. From the widespread adoption of the Internet thanks to the popularity of the World Wide Web, to mobile devices including cell phones, and now tablet devices, information must be presented in new ways on a variety of platforms. But one thing hasn’t changed and that is PowerBuilder’s ability to make application development fast and easy, whether you are targeting the desktop, web browser, or a hand held device. PowerBuilder supports developing and deploying applications and business logic as traditional Windows or web browser applications. It also allows developers to make their business logic available through web services or as EJB components in a variety of JEE servers. PowerBuilder also supports .NET and allows developers to easily integrate .NET code into their existing applications. With PowerBuilder 12 customers can migrate their Win32 applications to WPF using PowerBuilder .NET. This new IDE also allows developers to turn their business logic, written in PowerBuilder into .NET assemblies that can be used in C# or Visual Basic .NET applications. PowerBuilder continues to evolve to support new technologies on multiple platforms.

As a 4th Generation Language (4GL) Rapid Application Development (RAD) tool, PowerBuilder is used by thousands of customers all around the world in industries as diverse as finance, aerospace, mining, entertainment, and education. Many SAP customers use PowerBuilder to customize their SAP installations. There are even SAP modules written in PowerBuilder. It is also used by government agencies at the local, state, and national level on every continent on earth. If you would like to learn more about PowerBuilder, please visit where you can also download an evaluation version of PowerBuilder and try it out for yourself. Come see why PowerBuilder remains one of the most popular application development tools in use today.

Sybase PowerDesigner
by David Dichmann, PowerDesigner Product Manager

One of my favorite quotes these days is from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who tells us, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” Why I like it is it reminds me of the real value of business analytics and decision support.  As IT professionals, it is ultimately our job to give business decision makers all the facts they need to make informed decisions.  In absence of the facts, business leaders will ultimately make whatever decision “feels” best.  There are many tools and techniques we can use to improve the quality, integrity, reliability and agility of our decision support systems, but one key element remains the same: a consistent use of data definitions, linked to all physical implementations, aligned to all business use cases and processes and able to trace data heritage and lineage throughout all systems will be essential to understanding the information architecture of the enterprise.

To that end, we’ve built Sybase PowerDesigner with the information and enterprise architect in mind.  We know that for better decision support, we need to deliver a true information architecture tool.  This includes the Conceptual Data Model (CDM) that defines and describes the enterprise business data elements and related attributes.  The CDM is meant to be a single enterprise wide resource of the common definition of business data, independent of any database and any storage structure.  In other words, the CDM must not dictate whether the information will be in a relational database, and XML message or an application component.  The CDM entities are also a sum of all possible use cases – and must be linked to all the business processes that manage or use this data.  PowerDesigner has a fully integrated Business Process Model (BPM) that captures the business workflow and process flow definitions.  Data elements are linked to processes and flows and can be linked to any number of processes in any number of process models.  This ensures that anything we do in the business that produces and consumes data has their data needs fully reflected in the CDM.

But, a CDM is only good as an analysis tool. It is great to help us know what all data elements should look like, or what standard they should conform to, but when we go to define and describe an application, we need to start generating Logical Data Models (LDMs) that are project and application specific.  LDMs define the relational structures that will be used to ultimately store the data, and represent the developer’s view of the data.  They represent an implemented subset of the CDM artifacts that are specific to the application or system being implemented.  In this way, the same CDM element may be in one or more LDMs, each containing a different subset of the attributes and relationships as appropriate.  And each LDM can generate to any number of RDBMS-specific PDMs that can generate code to over 80 different vendor/version RDBMS including latest Oracle, Microsoft, IBM and Sybase databases.

What this means is, if we have a common standard definition, and can align each subset in implementation based on that common standard, then we will have a much easier time when we go to integrate and federate data from source environments into the analytics environments to support the decision support processes.  In other words, everything is built so that it will fit together easier.  This significantly eases the burden of ETL and EII programming, ensures a clear way to re-align different parts of a common data concept together, and minimizes pints of failure in the overall data movement process.  To that end, PowerDesigner also offers a Data Movement Model (DMM) that can not only develop a logical layout of the data movement layer’s data flows, but can also round-trip Sybase Replication Server code to fully understand complex replication environments.

So, to provide better facts to business, we need better business analytics systems.  To improve analytics, we need better architected information systems.  To better architect information systems, we need tools like PowerDesigner that can capture and manage all the different models needed to define and describe the enterprise.  But each model alone is not enough, PowerDesigner also links these models together and automatically transforms them into more detailed models as appropriate, using a technology we call Link and Sync.  This ensures we have all the facts we need to understand the data systems and sources, what the standards should be and how they relate to physical systems, and how all those physical systems are wired together.  From this knowledge, we can architect a better analytics environment which in turn gives us better data for business decision makers out of the system.  We can include more data, manage more complex decision support environments, and do so with the confidence we’ve got it right.  

For more information, please visit

Next episode: A deeper look at Sybase: CEP

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      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      I've been a user of both tools for a long time.  More a Powerbuilder user rather than a PowerDesigner user because I only use Powerdesigner mainly for reverse-engineering, too.
      Author's profile photo Kenneth Moore
      Kenneth Moore
      PowerBuilder was my first programming language I used in my first job after graduating college.  It was great!  Unfortunately, I only used it for a year because I then switched careers into SAP.  Can't believe it is still around and now is part of SAP!  Everything comes full-circle, I guess!
      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      What will be the future of powerbuilder with SAP?

      Will SAP use Powerbuilder for its development?

      Will powerbuilder create more jobs with SAP ?

      Author's profile photo Rob Verschoor
      Rob Verschoor
      Blog Post Author
      I cannot answer your questions since I cannot predict the future. But I certainly hope PB and PD will find their place within the SAP ecosystem.