Many Happy RETURNS: COBOL is 60

Can you believe that in September 1959, the world first heard the technical acronym ‘COBOL’? The history of COBOL over the past 60 years is fascinating, and proof of COBOL’s durability. Recorded statements of the value and ubiquity of the language have been reported widely over the years.

Check out these impressive statistics:

· 70% of all transaction processing systems are built using COBOL
· 80% of in-person transactions use COBOL
· 95% of ATM swipes rely on COBOL code (yes you read that correctly)
· 220 billion lines of COBOL are in use today, with an additional 5 billion lines in new code added each year

Designed with Success in Mind

A government commissioned technical group, including the inimitable Grace Hopper, the ‘mother of COBOL’, pioneer Jean Sammet, and a small group of vendors, technicians and government officials, first conceived the language they named Common Business-Oriented Language (COBOL) this time sixty years ago. Because of its ease of use and portability, and because the US Department of Defense required COBOL on all its computer system purchases, COBOL quickly became one of the most used business programming languages in the world.


COBOL is everywhere! Craig Marble from modernization experts Astadia states, “Most people don’t realize their daily routines depend on 60-year-old technology. Whether it’s using an ATM, booking travel or filing an insurance claim, we all interact with COBOL-based systems in some way each day, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. This is an undeniable testament to the longevity and continued relevance of COBOL, and I believe it will continue to run mission-critical applications in the Cloud for another 60 years.”

Why COBOL has stayed relevant

You are probably wondering what this all means. In short: COBOL is here to stay! 60 years from now, someone will write a blog post, “As Que predicted, COBOL is now 120!” Why am I so confident of COBOL’s future? I mentioned earlier that COBOL was designed for success. Here are five reasons:

1) Innovation – COBOL’s constant evolution over the years. Vendors, most prominently Micro Focus and IBM, have invested millions of R&D bucks. There are the ongoing standards efforts to meet the demands of the IT industry’s evolution and the shifting technology landscape. It’s the major reason the 2019 incarnation remains a genuinely contemporary platform for business system delivery.

2) History – with six decades of heritage, billions of lines of value, and hundreds of thousands of practitioners, the global COBOL community remains buoyant, bolstered by ongoing training, huge continued commercial and government sector usage, and vendor support. Like COBOL, the humble telephone is a great example of a core technology that has achieved lasting success thanks to vendor investment.

3) Portability: An original COBOL design edict was to cross-compile, and be transportable across platforms. This clarity of vision became supremely important in the platform availability goldrush that began in the 1990s. COBOL remains the most portable computer language, ideal for supporting hybrid IT, or multi-platform systems.

4) Business-Centricity: The primary goal of COBOL, from day one, was to be a language for business. With precise arithmetic support, capabilities to manage and process vast amounts of data, high performance and robust error management, COBOL remains unrivalled as a technical solution for business systems.

5) Readability: Again, designed at the outset, COBOL’s ease of learning, reading, and writing enables IT teams to spend less time on figuring out how to use it and resolving skills concerns, and more time to focus on business.

COBOL in the next 60 years?

Looking ahead, many have zero doubts that COBOL will continue. Tens of millions of dollars are invested annually to ensure COBOL remains contemporary, and Micro Focus will continue to support this essential language.

COBOL’s future relevancy is widely predicted. Tom Ross from IBM; “After 60 years, COBOL is still the language of business. With millions of global transactions processed every second, COBOL delivers adaptability and performance, outpacing many of its modern rivals. While some would question the continued use of COBOL, I see a language that’s quietly powered six decades of economic growth and a technology with a very bright future.”

And Steven Dickens from IBM LinuxONE hit it on the head with COBOL’s continued relevancy and its role in digital transformation and innovation, he states, “COBOL is 60-years young. The language that powers the mainframes that run the world is as relevant today as it was in the 1960’s. With the presence of new digital pressures, the mainframe and COBOL are back at the forefront for the modern developer enabling innovation and transformation.”

I’ll be discussing COBOL’s future in my next blog post, on COBOL and Digital Transformation, coming soon…

Find out more:

What is COBOL?

Learn what Micro Focus means to COBOL, with “COBOL at 60 – a Living Legend”.

View the video, “Enterprise Application Modernization for Today’s Digital Economy

View the blog post, “How COBOL Persists: People, Process, and Technology

And don’t hesitate to check out our previous blogposts on our favourite subject either:

View the blog post, COBOL: The original language for business – and a continued chart success!

View the blog post, COBOL: The Pink Floyd of programming languages?

View the blog post, Do COBOL Applications have a future?

View the blog post, Micro Focus: COBOL to the core

View the blog post, How COBOL Persists: People, Process, and Technology

View the blog post, A Lasting Legacy – COBOL and Modernization, The Consultant’s Tale

View the blog post, COBOL- still standing the test of time

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Micro Focus

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