COBOL: Don't Call It a Comeback

While COBOL is solidly into middle age ?ö?ç?? and many COBOL developers are well beyond that -- companies such as Micro Focus, Microsoft and Veryant are moving to help enterprises take legacy COBOL applications to more modern architectures.

"Don't call it a comeback! I been here for years ..."

Although LL Cool J belts that line out at the opening of one of his past hits, it could be the tag line for the COBOL language today.

Every so often I find myself in a group discussing programming languages and somebody brings up COBOL.

"You know, there's even still some of that around," somebody will say of the old-school programming language for business applications. Uh, yes, there is indeed. According to some estimates, there are about 200 billion lines of COBOL code in business applications still running today, with 5 billion new lines of COBOL code developed each year.

Born in 1959, COBOL has certainly reached middle age but is not dead yet.

Of course, there has long been a slowdown on new development, as companies work to modernize legacy applications and rewrite them in more modern technologies.

A few companies that are focusing on helping organizations upgrade their COBOL applications include Veryant, Micro Focus and Microsoft -- working to move legacy COBOL applications to the Java and Microsoft platforms.

So rather than a full-fledged "comeback," many are focusing on ensuring that COBOL code continues to run in modern environments.

Officials at Veryant said there exists a great opportunity to enhance and integrate COBOL applications through Web services and SOA (service-oriented architecture). Thus, on July 8, Veryant will announce isCOBOL Application Suite 2008 (isCOBOL APS), the latest release of the company's software for the development, deployment, maintenance and modernization of COBOL applications.

Veryant isCOBOL combines COBOL's business focus with the openness and portability of the Java platform without retraining staff or rewriting code.

Veryant officials said Veryant isCOBOL APS enables COBOL developers to write code in COBOL to run in a Java environment, so enterprises looking to modernize their legacy applications can migrate them to run on the Java platform.

According to the Veryant Web site:

""All isCOBOL development and debugging tasks are performed in a familiar COBOL environment. The isCOBOL Compiler translates COBOL source code into Java classes that are then executed with the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). The isCOBOL Runtime Environment is written entirely in Java, so isCOBOL applications can run on any device that supports a JVM and will take full advantage of today's multi-threaded, multi-core servers. Thin client and distributed processing capabilities are included in the isCOBOL Runtime Environment, enabling developers to maintain one graphical user interface (GUI), regardless of platform choice or deployment model.""

Moreover, because the isCOBOL compiler and runtime environment are written in Java, COBOL developers can design a single user interface and deploy it across many platforms, including AIX, HP-UX, Solaris, Linux, Windows and mainframe systems.

In addition, the new version also helps deliver the power of the Web to COBOL applications. Alfredo Iglesias, vice president of business development at Veryant, said that "enhancements have been made to isCOBOL Web Direct as well, bringing flexible design capabilities for Web 2.0 applications to be developed entirely in COBOL."

isCOBOL APS includes support for ANSI-2002 standard COBOL features such as object-orientation and Unicode. However, with the addition of layout support in isCOBOL APS 2008, the same graphical resizing of windows that is part of most Web applications today is now easily implemented for COBOL program end users.

Other new or enhanced features in isCOBOL APS 2008 include optimized TCP/IP communications to improve performance and response time when running in isCOBOL Server thin client configurations; enhanced rich GUI controls, including support for sorting columns in the Grid control; additional Web 2.0 development features such as calendar date-entry, gain/lost focus event, keystroke functions, and accordion panel in isCOBOL Web Direct; and improved printing capabilities, such as the ability to print both from the server and client side of a deployment.

Meanwhile, on July 2, Microsoft and Micro Focus announced a strategic relationship to help enterprises modernize COBOL applications by moving them to the Windows platform and the Microsoft tool set.

Micro Focus officials said the company will further extend its Windows-based technology portfolio, including its Net Express, SOA Express and Enterprise Server products, to provide customers with managed-code, 64-bit solutions that will take advantage of the Microsoft .Net Framework, SQL Server, Team Foundation Server, BizTalk Server and System Center Operations Manager. Moreover, officials at the respective companies said that by working together, Microsoft and Micro Focus can deliver a state-of-the-art development, testing and deployment solution for their customers' COBOL applications.

Micro Focus said company representatives will share more on the Micro Focus partnership with Microsoft at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2008, which runs July 7-10 in Houston.