Many of the often discussed enhancements are for improvements to PowerBuilder are not related to differentiating PowerBuilder from other products in the same market niche. It is certainly important to overcome deficiencies (e.g., lack of XP style toolbars and menus). However, addition of other â€œme-tooâ€ features such as Next Generation PowerScript are detrimental to the product overall if they are added at the expense of features such as a Rich Text Edit Style or Web Services as a DataWindow data source. What Sybase needs to focus on as it considers enhancements to PowerBuilder is the "core" rather than "context". Geoffrey Moore defines the difference between core and context this way:
The distinction is critical to business strategy. Core is differentiation in some attribute of the offer that leads to customer preference at the time of a purchase decision. Context is acceptable performance in all other attributes. Unlike core, with context, while it is critical not to under-perform, there is no reward for over-performing.
People use PowerBuilder largely because they want to use the DataWindow. To the degree that people use PocketBuilder, itâ€™s because they want to deploy the DataWindow to mobile clients. If people are interested in WebForms generation, it will be so that they can deploy the DataWindow in WebForms. And obviously, people who use DataWindow.Net are doing so because they want to use the DataWindow. No offense intended but â€œItâ€™s the DataWindow, stupid!â€ (or less potentially insulting: â€œDataWindows Everywhereâ€). If the DataWindow no longer offers very significant advantages over other available data access controls, then people will no longer have any incentive to use any of those products. And other controls are catching up quick. Microsoftâ€™s DataGridView control (introduced in the .Net Framework 2.0) offers advantages over the DataWindow in some areas (flexibility in data source) and is generally lacking only in the absence of a visual designer.
Kathy Sierra offers this advice for targeting improvements in a product:
We believe that those providing the products and services that give the most "I Rule" experiences, without tipping too far over the Happy User Peak, will be the most successful. (Obviously there are a ton of exceptions, and yes of course I'm overgeneralizing.) Push back. Of course you'll lose customers if you stop adding as many new features. Or will you?
What if instead of adding new features, a company concentrated on making the service or product much easier to use? Or making it much easier to access the advanced features it already has, but that few can master? Maybe what they lose in market share in one area will be more than compensated for in another area. In a lot of markets, it's gotten so bad out there that simply being usable is enough to make a product truly remarkable.
We will resist the siren call of the market, because we believe the best path is: Give users what they actually want, not what they say they want. And whatever you do, don't give them new features just because your competitors have them!
Be brave. And besides, continuing to pile on new features eventually leads to an endless downhill slide toward poor usability and maintenance. A negative spiral of incremental improvements. Fighting and clawing for market share by competing solely on features is an unhealthy, unsustainable, and unfun way to live.
Be the "I Rule" product, not the "This thing I bought does everything, but I suck!" product.
What Sybase need to do now is determine what it is about PowerBuilder that distiguishes it from other development tools, and then focus on enhancements (and innovations) in those differentiating areas. In my estimation, that would involve (a) the DataWindow and (b) RAD development. I've already mentioned the DataWindow. The other area where PowerBuilder shines for me is in developer productivity. When Microsoft transformed Visual Studio into a .Net language, it lost of a lot of the RAD capability that had made it originally so popular. That's one of the major reasons you find a lot of developers (including a number of Microsoft MVPs) petitioning to bring "classic" VB back.
I'm not arguing against Sybase's efforts to make PowerBuilder a tool that can be used to develop .Net applications. I'm simply saying that in the process they can't do to it what Microsoft did to Visual Basic. That transition needs to be made in a way that make PowerBuilder even more productive, not less productive. It needs to keep and even extend it's 4GL capability, rather than devolving into a 3GL language like Visual Basic.Net has largely become. It's about focus, which I'll cover in the next post.