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Print-ExclusiveAfter IBM's Cognos acquisition, the Powerhouse language now offers slower development prospects. Some long-term users are adjusting their expectations further in 2012, even while they work to make other software integrate with the fourth generation language.

It might be easy to pin today's prospects for Powerhouse onto IBM. The computing giant purchased the creator of that product, Cognos, in 2007. The years since that purchase have frustrated some users who try to rely on the 4GL. While the concept of a 4GL remains a useful Advanced Development Tool (ADT), the potential for adapting Powerhouse or extending its reach looks challenged.

One example is at the manufacturer Accuride, a 3000 shop using Powerhouse. Dave Vinnedge says he's been working to integrate the latest, 8.49F version of Powerhouse with MB Foster's UDALink software. As Cognos was edging into the realm of IBM, it was changing internals in the Powerhouse data dictionary. These differences were not communicated to such independent software allies in time to make the changes so the products might integrate. More than four years later, the liaison between a now-small Cognos ADT operation to allied companies still isn't working on an official level.

Customers expect this kind of technical exchange to continue between their vendors. But reports from the installed base of Powerhouse customers indicate that IBM's interest in Cognos remains largely in the Cognos Business Intelligence products. The ADT tools like Powerhouse look forlorn in comparison.

It's not like developers using the product have all lost faith. "We had a project to migrate from the HP 3000 a few years ago," says Mike Godsey. "I was told to compare a conversion to Powerhouse Web and a full Java design. We estimated it would take seven developers three years to do the Java, or four programmers two months to move to Powerhouse Web. Powerhouse Web was chosen. We delivered ahead of schedule and zero defects. How many Java apps can claim that?"

But the support from Powerhouse's new owner drives down hopes. "Realistically, what future does PowerHouse have?" asks Vaughn Smith, a developer working in HP's OpenVMS environment with the 4GL. "The products are 30-plus years old, but they still perform quite well on the right hardware. IBM has stated that Powerhouse will remain supported as long as it makes business sense. That said, there are no future updates planned at this time."

On the HP 3000, IBM supports only the 8.49F version of the language, tools which also include Quick, Quiz, and Powerhouse Web. To get an idea of how long ago this version was crafted, the IBM support document lists MPE/iX 6.5 as the build release for Powerhouse. 7.0 and 7.5 releases are also supported, so long as the OS is patched. While some IBM operations have a stellar track record for customer service, Vinnedge said his Cognos experience doesn't match that.

"I have not yet seen a lot of diligent customer service practices, at least on the Cognos side of IBM," he said. "For example, my boss started receiving the 2010 Powerhouse support renewal notice every 15 minutes. It took over a day for my boss to be sure that Kenneth Robinson at IBM knew that there was a problem — and two more days for IBM to fix it." 

Vinnedge added that IBM has also changed the Powerhouse license to "Quantity 50 - E06CHLL" without telling Accuride. Even a simple request to explain what the new license meant didn't get a reply. "He has a good guess, based on our other IBM licenses," Vinnedge says, "so he has not really tried to shake that tree."