Reports of COBOL’s Imminent Demise Premature
Colleges, corporate initiatives help venerable language stay vital
By Geoff Koch
January 1, 2007 —
(Page 1 of 3)
The idea of commingling grandfatherly COBOL with more sprightly languages runs counter to any notions about the impending demise of mainframes. But such notionswhich generally hold that mainframes are on their way out thanks to newly powerful x86 servers, newer programming languages and a looming shortage of COBOL-savvy engineersdont appear to hold up well against the reality of the mainframe market today.
Arguably, no programming language is more associated with mainframes than COBOL, which has been subject to more than occasional ridicule during its long existence. The acronym stands for Common Business-Oriented Language, though there are several stinging alternatives, including Compiles Only Because of Luck and Completely Obsolete Business Oriented Language.
However, more than four decades after the language was created, many technologists remain willing to sing its praises, especially when it comes to its ability to handle huge volumes of information in large corporate and government data centers.
There is no other language that will match COBOL in this respect, said Rui de Oliveira, author of The Power of COBOL, published in October. Oliveira, a 30-year programming veteran and founder of the Luso Computer Institute in South Africa, added that COBOL has also shown itself to be an excellent vehicle for teaching the art and science of programming.
COBOL ON CAMPUS
Though perhaps waning, instruction in COBOL and other legacy technologies is still available at several colleges and universities, in part due to programs sponsored by vendors with significant skin in the mainframe game.
IBM has an academic initiative to make mainframe technologies more accessible to budding computer professionals. The company provides curriculum to more than 300 universities worldwide and sponsors an annual Master the Mainframe contest to foment interest in large-scale computing.
Micro Focus, too, works with university partners, in part by providing low-cost licensing of its software for classroom instruction. Zhenyu Huang, a professor of business information systems at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., teaches a PC-version of Micro Focus Net Express, a COBOL development environment for extending legacy applications to the .NET Framework.