COBOL Turns 50

 
 
By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2009-09-18 Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The COBOL computer programming language has turned 50 as of Sept. 18, making it one of the oldest programming languages still in use.

The COBOL computer programming language has turned 50 as of Sept. 18, making it one of the oldest programming languages still in use.

Officials at Micro Focus, a provider of enterprise application management, testing and modernization solutions that has made its name on COBOL, said the company is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the date the name COBOL was given to the computer language that continues to underpin the modern world.

The name COBOL, short for Common Business-Oriented Language, was agreed upon during a meeting of the Short Range Committee of the Conference on Data Systems Languages (CODASYL), the organization responsible for submitting the first version of the language, on Sept. 18, 1959. This followed a meeting at the Pentagon where guidelines for COBOL were first laid down.

Despite its age, COBOL still plays a pivotal role in running most of the world's businesses and public services, from powering almost all global ATM transactions, running nearly three quarters of the world's business applications, and booking hundreds of holidays every single day, Micro Focus said.  According to some estimates, there are more than 200 billion lines of COBOL code in existence, with hundreds more being created every single day.

"COBOL has been a major part of the technology landscape since the dawn of the computing age and it will continue to play a leading role moving forward. Organizations have depended on COBOL for 50 years - a testament to the language's resilience, flexibility and value," said Ken Powell, president, North American operations at Micro Focus. "Over the past five decades, COBOL has grown to encapsulate business logic at the heart of organizations across all industries. As these organizations make plans to modernize business-critical applications, they will be able to draw on the reliability and breadth of business logic that comes with this iconic language." 

In May of 2009, Micro Focus published research showing that people still use COBOL at least 13 times throughout the course of an average working day. Yet, despite using the technology so often, only 18 percent of those surveyed had ever actually heard of COBOL. Equivalent research conducted by Micro Focus in the United Kingdom showed that U.K. citizens rely nearly as heavily on COBOL, using it at least 10 times per day.

Mike Gilpin, analyst at Forrester research and former COBOL programmer, in a statement said, "...32 percent of enterprises say they still use COBOL for development or maintenance... COBOL is one of the few languages written in the last 50 years that's readable and understandable... Modern programming languages are ridiculously hard to understand." 

 
 
 
 
Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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