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COBOL keeps on rolling along

Comparatively rare are the times when we hear about COBOL programming these days - unless it’s from a vendor or systems integration specialist perhaps. Rarer still are the times that I speak to developers who say they really want to up their COBOL knowledge.
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Written by Adrian Bridgwater on

Comparatively rare are the times when we hear about COBOL programming these days - unless it’s from a vendor or systems integration specialist perhaps. Rarer still are the times that I speak to developers who say they really want to up their COBOL knowledge.

Trying to stay ambivalent just for a moment, I’ve just come out of a meeting with Microsoft this morning to discuss Silverlight programming parameters. I made particular note of the fact that threading techniques are part of the wider application developer’s toolset now with Silverlight – and this is for the web.

Threading and parallel processing for Rich Internet Applications you say? Yes, why not – we’re ultimately being drawn into parallel and Intel says that it is already here. Everything is going the way of the web. So put two and two together.

I asked Microsoft’s Mark Quirk and John Allwright if this aspect of Silverlight’s technology proposition should come as a surprise and they said no – parallel has been around for some time after all. By that he meant mainframes of course. So then I fairly logically thought of COBOL and the whole thing just wrapped around me in one self-replicating ball of technology.

So can you still see companies pushing out (ah-hem) ‘solutions’ in the COBOL universe? You certainly can. Just this week there have been rumblings from the belly of corporate publicity that feeds application management company Micro Focus. Its latest morsel is called Net Express with .NET and is reportedly designed to bring COBOL application development kicking and screaming into the 21st Century via use of Microsoft Visual Studio 2008.

It is argued that for COBOL to still proffer some effectiveness in 2008, language enhancements are needed so that companies can reuse existing COBOL assets and then also extend them into the .NET Framework. Developers can then draw on these data assets and supposedly build programs more efficiently.

IT manager: “Hey, we’re gonna allow you to develop applications that draw on turn of the previous century technology and help us earn more money.”

Developer: “Um, ok – how much extra will I get paid, as I can’t see myself putting that on my CV/resume?”

IT manager: “No really - despite an increasing array of programming languages, COBOL remains the most widely used enterprise class language in the world today. The latest management software will bring a contemporary look and feel to these tried and trusted systems.”

Developer: “Are you reading this stuff from somewhere?”

What ever your level of scepticism - I have to quote a figure from Micro Focus which I have been unable to verify. The company says that COBOL is, “…a language that processes 75% of the world's data and runs major corporate systems around the world.”

All I can say is that legacy systems are often old because they work. New may not always be best – and if it is, perhaps drawing from existing data, code and process and providing a modern veneer may be of some use.

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