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What's Coming in the Next Version of PowerBuilder?

What's Coming in the Next Version of PowerBuilder?

Last month my editorial was about "must-have" improvements in PowerBuilder. Well, shortly after that piece was written we got a sneak peak at the enhancements coming in the next version of PowerBuilder.

I can't say I got everything on my list, but some of the coming attractions are quite interesting.

Strangely enough, the peak came as a result of an ISUG tech cast on the "compile to ASP.NET" feature that's supposed to be one of the major features of PowerBuilder 11. That feature is dependent on ASP.NET 2.0, and Microsoft recently announced a six-month slip in the ASP.NET 2.0 release date. Rather than delay all of the improvements it's been working on, Sybase has decided to bring out an interim release called 10.5 in the first quarter of next year that will have the improvements that are ready. It will only ship 11.0 once ASP.NET 2.0 has been released and the "compile to ASP.NET" feature is complete.

If you're interested in learning more about the "compile to ASP.NET" feature or seeing any of the other information from the tech cast, the slides are available on the Sybase web site at www.sybase.com/sb_content/1027266/ISUG_Techcast-PBDotNetCompiler.pdf.

A recording of the tech cast is also available at http://video.sybase.com/webcasts/ISUG/June05-ISUG-Techcast.wmv.

Like PowerBuilder 6.5, the PowerBuilder 10.5 release is considered a major release rather than a maintenance release. That means it will require an upgrade (which you should get for free if you're on a USP contract).

DataWindow enhancements include a TreeView DataWindow presentation style and auto-size height for all DataWindow bands. Other GUI improvements include a date picker control with a corresponding DataWindow edit style and new functionality for menus, toolbars, and bitmaps.

Menus will support a contemporary, 3D, or traditional style and let the developer specify shadows and include bitmaps for menu items and a title for the menu. The developer will also be able to set the background color for the menu items and the bitmaps as well as the highlight color.

Toolbars will also support a contemporary, 3D, or traditional style as well as a rebar style. The developer will be able to specify whether they are collapsible, set a gripper style, and specify the highlight and background colors. And we'll finally be able to attach toolbars to top-level windows that aren't MDI window types!

The bitmaps used throughout the IDE will be upgraded to provide a more modern look-and-feel, and developers will be able to use those same bitmaps in their own applications.

Somewhat related to the graphical user interface, PowerBuilder 10.5 will finally introduce a replacement rich text edit control. The current control is an OEM version of a third-party control that used to be very popular. The vendor then stopped supporting it and the control has been largely "frozen in time" as far as features go, particularly with respect to the version of the RTF it supports. The new control will most likely be the result of another third-party OEM agreement, but with a company that has a control that is significantly more modern. There should be little loss in functionality and quite a few gains.

There will also be a number of improvements in database support. Native drivers will be added for Oracle 10g (including Instant Client) and ASE 15.0. The database painter is being enhanced to support viewing the source for triggers for all database vendors and for events for ASA and ASE.

The PowerBuilder 10.2 maintenance release included a number of significant improvements in database tracing that will be the topic of an article in the August PBDJ, including the ability to turn on tracing dynamically and control the level of detail in the trace. PowerBuilder 10.5 will expand on those capabilities.

The DataWindow and embedded SQL select capabilities are being improved to offer direct support for blob columns. You will be able to retrieve data from blob columns in your DataWindow without using an OLE Database Blob column. You'll also be able to retrieve data from blob columns in a select statement with other columns rather than having to use a separate SELECTBLOB statement. Update capability will be available depending on the type of data and database support.

And for those of you struggling with the EasySOAP implementation that PowerBuilder has been using to provide Web Services support, the good news is that PowerBuilder 10.5 will use a different parser. That should resolve a lot of the issues that developers using Web Services have had with data types that the EasySOAP libraries couldn't handle.

There are a number of other enhancements described in the tech cast; I've just tried to touch on those I believe are the more significant ones. However, there's one other area that won't necessarily benefit us in the 10.5 release, but will pave the way for significant improvements in the future. The engineering team has begun an effort to refactor the DataWindow code. Remember that some of that code is more than 10-years-old and has been significantly grafted onto to provide its current functionality. The refactoring will help facilitate enhancements such as providing an abstraction layer between the DataWindow and the source of the data. Once such a layer is in place, the DataWindow will be able to accept data directly from a variety of sources, not only from the database, but from components in an application server or a Web Service.

Refactoring that much code is an ambitious task, and raises the risk that some existing functionality will be broken. However, I think it's a necessary and acceptable risk. The DataWindow control remains the most powerful data access and presentation control on the market and is easier to use than even the most recent competitors (such as the DataGrid in the .NET Framework).

It's probably the reason you're using PowerBuilder; it's definitely the reason I am. For years the DataWindow provided functionality that no other tool came close to. That remains the case, but won't remain so if Sybase sits back and waits for other vendors to catch up. Microsoft is fast at work on a DataGridView control for Visual Studio 2005 that incorporates a number of DataWindow-like features that are missing from the DataGrid. Now is the time to do the groundwork for significant new DataWindow features that will ensure that it continues to be head and shoulders above any other data control available.

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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