The recent release of Sybase’s PowerBuilder rapid application development tool allows users of the toolkit to deploy applications on the .NET architecture. Will it be enough to regain their footing in the enterprise tool space, against the behemoths of Visual Studio and Eclipse?

Potential targets for deployment now include both native windows applications through Winforms, and Web applications through .NET Webforms.

In the view of PowerBuilder’s developers, the Windows32 deployment environment is dying. “We want to provide an overlap period”, John Strano, Sybase technology evangelist told Builder AU in Sydney today. The ambition is to provide a means of developing and deploying existing applications to platforms past, present and future without a rewrite.

Sybase are concious that they’re not in the position where they can avoid providing a clear migration path for their users towards the new world of Web deployment, service oriented architecture and rich applications.

Citing VB 6 as an example, Strano said “Microsoft may be able to say ‘rewrite it in C#’, but if we tell our customers that, they will start looking towards competitors.”

PowerBuilder is heavily focused towards the Windows platform, currently supporting only native windows applications and now Web applications accessed through Internet Explorer (but not Firefox, or anything on Mac or Linux).

“People tell us that they want Firefox support” said Dave Fish, also of Sybase. “We’re looking at providing Silverlight support for cross browser deployment.”

Silverlight and full Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) support is scheduled for the next major PowerBuilder release, PowerBuilder 12, due in no less than a year’s time. WPF support will allow PowerBuilder developers to deploy to XBAPs and avoid the browser entirely.

Fish admitted that in many respects they would always be playing catch up to Microsoft. “.NET is a moving target, we have to work hard to stay current with the target.”

Are they worried that they’ll suffer from lagging behind?

“No”, said Strano, “We’re better than our competitors at what we do, we’ll improve their products.”

At the end of the day, if you’re going to follow a star, then you can do a lot worse than the biggest software company in the world.

PowerBuilder’s audience seem to agree. “70% of our customers tell us they’re looking at .NET for the future.” Fish tells us.

Only time will tell if this new focus can allow PowerBuilder to regain their historical status as a player in application development tools or if their dependence on Microsoft, themselves a major competitor in that space, will leave them contesting for the scraps left by the largest vendor.