PowerBuilder vs. NeXTSTEP Development Environment

The document (attached below) gave an overview of the PowerBuilder product from Powersoft Corporation. Specifically, it compared and contrasted it to the NeXTSTEP development environment (Release 3.0). It should be noted that the information contained within this document was obtained from a PowerBuilder Product Overview, published in April of 1991, based on Version 1.0 of PowerBuilder.

What was PowerBuilder at that time?
In their own words, PowerBuilder was a PC-based, graphical, client/server application development environment. It ran under Windows 3.0 and 3.1. Like NeXT's InterfaceBuilder, PowerBuilder came with a graphical environment to allow the developer to paint application objects such as windows, menus, and command buttons, which responded to events such as "clicked" or "modified" by executing scripts written in a high-level scripting language called PowerScript!. PowerBuilder supported several relational database management systems, including:
• SQL Server from Microsoft and Sybase Corporation
• SQLBase from Gupta Technologies, Inc.
• ORACLE Server from Oracle Corporation

The PowerBuilder application was much like InterfaceBuilder of 2.0, in that it included several components of application development besides GUI construction. For example, PowerBuilder included:
• The PowerScript language for writing application functions
• A full-function text editor for creating PowerScript routines
• A graphical PowerScript debugger with the same type of capabilities as the NeXTSTEP 3.0 GNU Debugger-Edit combination
• A Library Manager for managing the current project, and "objects" from all applications developed
• Database creation and maintenance facilities
• Automatic Application Reports
• Access to Windows Help Facility

Most of these items are described in more detail in the document. And of course PowerBuilder supported the test phase during development. From all indications, you compiled the scripts first, and then ran the program. However, you could continue in the same development environment throughout the lifecycle of the project as you can with NeXT's InterfaceBuilder. Unlike HyperScript in HyperCard, the end application was bundled into a ".exe" file and could be run as a standalone application outside of PowerBuilder, needing only the PowerBuilder runtime libraries installed on
the machine.

Article's Conclusion
PowerBuilder provided a well integrated environment for simple data retrieval and update capabilities, allowing access to SQL databases through graphical connections and embedded SQL statements. Most retrieval and editing operations could be done graphically with a mouse. However, when this facility fells short, the user is placed into PowerScript and embedded SQL. This may have been an easier environment to learn for nonprogrammers, but as in other high-level scripting languages, the functionality demanded by corporate users typically outstripped the capabilities provided by the language. The emphasis in PowerBuilder was definitely applications needing database access. The emphasis in NeXTSTEP’s development environment is a complete integrated solution to application developer’s needs, no matter what the focus of the application.

PowerBuilder fell woefully short in the number and type of objects accessible to the application developer. There didn’t appear to be any complex objects available like there are in NeXTSTEP (e.g. Font Panel, Open/Save panel, Color Panel, SoundKit, VideoKit, 3DKit, Print/Fax object, etc.). PowerBuilder was not extensible to the developer, as InterfaceBuilder was with the ability to add new object palettes. PowerBuilder did not allow the user to choose the language they want to develop in. PowerBuilder depended on DDE, and therefore did not support network wide communication between applications (i.e. remote objects).

The most important differentiating feature between PowerBuilder and NeXTSTEP’s development environment was the lack of a true object-oriented environment in PowerBuilder. The corporate developer did not gain the benefits that OOPs provides by using this tool. It was no easier to share objects in this environment as it was to share subroutines in the old "modular" code days. Data was not encapsulated within objects, but rather scripts had access to data at different levels just like the standard "C" language. There were no facilities for taking advantage of work done before, in the form of subclassing. It was not necessary to go into any detail on these issues, and the others associated with this topic, because these are the same arguments NeXT has been using against almost all other competing environments, from Windows to UNIX. PowerBuilder was a nice product for what it did at the time, but it was not object-oriented, and it was not a complete development environment. It simply added graphical database access to a scripting environment. Advice to resellers: don’t fear it, challenge it!

N.B.: Powersoft merged with Sybase in 1995, becoming an independent subsidiary.

Powerbuilder vs NeXTStep