#COBOL60: Your COBOL questions, answered

At a recent Micro Focus-sponsored virtual event, more than 300 COBOL community members celebrated its 60th anniversary by posing over 90 questions to our expert panel. In the next three blogs, COBOL expert Ed Airey answers 12 of the most popular questions about COBOL.

Why are we celebrating 60 years of COBOL on Sept.10th ?

Research proves COBOL was being planned throughout 1959, with the term first introduced later that year. So 10 September is not the official anniversary of COBOL, just when Micro Focus began a year-long celebration of this legendary programming language. Missed the #COBOL60 celebration webinar? Catch it here 

Does Micro Focus have a basic, standalone COBOL compiler that runs under Windows 7/10 without internet-enabled features, similar to how Micro Focus COBOL ran under DOS and earlier versions of Windows? We do not want to expose our COBOL application to the internet.

Vendors offer many COBOL development and deployment tools, and there is likely a good fit for your specific applications. Micro Focus COBOL technology brands include Visual COBOL, Net Express/Server Express, ACUCOBOL-GT, RM/COBOL and COBOL-IT; each meet different customer needs with a variety of features and capabilities. Why not discuss your technical requirements in a complementary Value Profile Meeting? Sign up here.

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More associated to the platform on which COBOL runs, than the language in itself. Integrating COBOL applications into evolving environments extends what it can do – so what are the latest technology integration options for COBOL?

Great question! Well-established COBOL applications must now integrate with other business systems, so we continue to invest in COBOL’s capabilities. Some of the newest capabilities include integration with .NET, Java Byte Code, REST, Docker Containers, Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services. Using a mainframe based system? Check out the Micro Focus Enterprise Suite 5.0: The New Economics of Enterprise Computing webinar. Working with distributed systems, then DevOps and API Development in the Cloud: Visual COBOL 5.0 Product Launch will give you a valuable steer.

What is the latest version of COBOL, and for how many more years will it be supported?

COBOL follows ANSI and ISO industry standards, and many organizations utilize COBOL 68, 74, 85 and 2002 standards within their applications. Micro Focus COBOL technology and the mainframe-friendly IBM Enterprise COBOL support these standards. As regards the latest version, both IBM and Micro Focus support a variety of product solutions. Example? Micro Focus Server Express supports multiple platforms including AIX, Solaris and HP-UX. Visit our Supportline Portal and Product Matrix for a full product and platform information. Lastly, we will continue to support COBOL on modern platforms, and on future technologies, to honor the Micro Focus commitment.

What is COBOL?

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I am attempting to introduce Agile and DevOps methods around a COBOL mainframe system matured over decades. What should be the COBOL platform of choice in this process?

COBOL should run on platforms that align to the customer’s business strategy and future goals. With DevOps in the mix, the mainframe works alongside our latest modern development and testing tools. This whitepaper offers a closer look at Agile mainframe development and testing. Away from the mainframe? The same principles apply; current COBOL applications can plug into a Continuous Integration (CI) pipeline and DevOps toolchain including integration with Azure and AWS.

How does object oriented (OO) COBOL fit the picture?

OO COBOL is another example of COBOL’s continued evolution in supporting the latest IT technologies, and OO programming certainly aligns to some organizations’ development model and strategy. The Micro Focus COBOL technology line supports procedural, OO and managed code with many options – check out this dedicated on-demand video series for more.

Where can we see the latest features of the COBOL language – is a demonstration available? How do I download a trial?

We have implemented some of the features required by our customers within the specification, plus a few extras. Vendor datasheets and technical specification documents carry a complete list of supported features. Want more on the latest Micro Focus COBOL technology lines? It’s all right here:

– Visual COBOL solution brochure and Visual COBOL datasheet
– Net Express / Server Express datasheet
– ACUCOBOL-GT / extend datasheet
– RM/COBOL datasheet
– COBOL-IT datasheets

COBOL vendors rely 100% on making people believe there is no better option. COBOL no longer has that persona; how are you going to recapture it?

Moving away from COBOL is rarely easy, often because the code is deeply entrenched in organizational core systems and application logic. Rewriting carries significant cost and risk; some move away, only to return to COBOL. COBOL meets the modern demands for dynamic web and mobile content, and interactive UIs; while maintaining the core values of precision, portability and performance. The latest version of COBOL uses industry standard IDEs such as Visual Studio and Eclipse, and deploys to any modern platform including .NET, Java and the Cloud.

I left a 15+ year career in COBOL, both with mainframe and micro systems and now, 18 years later, while I know some new stuff (HTML/CSS/JQuery) my heart is still with COBOL. What would be a good path to get back into COBOL development, and how steep is the learning curve with the latest COBOL?

The latest COBOL technology isn’t hard to master, and getting started is super-easy, with many tools, tutorials and systems available. We offer a free, one-year student developer license for Visual COBOL Personal Edition (VCPE). Created for developers to learn new skills, or refresh what they know, VCPE includes access to our online documentation library, a comprehensive set of on-demand You Tube videos and an online technical community provide help and quick answers. Your free digital copy of Visual COBOL: A developer’s guide to modern COBOL is 300 pages of tutorials, code samples and technical guidance for the COBOL, .NET and Java developer working with COBOL systems.

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I moved on from COBOL programming in the mid-80s to other opportunities in the 90s. How difficult is re-entering the COBOL world? Would employers would consider hiring a programmer who worked with COBOL 30 years ago? Has COBOL programming changed much in that time?

We often hear this at our #DevDay community events. Many business and commerce systems remain locked into COBOL applications, and digital commerce and IT transformation is fueling the drive to modernize their COBOL systems. So IT leaders need skilled workers to help with the transition to the new IT world. It is a significant opportunity for those willing to accept a challenge that goes beyond just leveraging COBOL, and requires an understanding of how the latest COBOL technology works alongside newer technology trends.

Despite being an intuitive, easy-to-learn language, new generation developers are not keen to work with COBOL, perhaps as a result of the ‘green screens’ still in use with many organizations. How can COBOL survive if newer developers prefer a newer language, or technology?

In short – everyone within the COBOL community must advocate for the continued use and value of COBOL technology. Why? Because too often, society equates ‘new’ with ‘better’ without considering the residual value of what already works.

The key is beginning early. By working with local universities, and supporting high and junior school programs, Micro Focus is promotes the value of COBOL skills and ensures next-gen developers have access to COBOL. Example? The Micro Focus COBOL Academic Program provides universities and technical schools with free access to courseware and software for education. Some Academic partners have been supporting a COBOL-focused curriculum for 20+ years.

While access is pivotal, perception matters, too. Today’s COBOL is as modern as any .NET or JVM-based language. Anyone using Visual Studio or Eclipse can work with it and acquire another, easily-achieved skill to add to their resume – a big plus for managers desperately looking for it. The technology is there – our job, as a community, is to advocate learning modern COBOL. A good first step is nominating a local university for The Program.

One of COBOL’s downfalls is the ‘clunky’ 24X80 green screens.  Has anyone looked at modernizing the user interface? Or producing a more modern COBOL screen?

Newer COBOL technology simplifies clunky ‘green screens’ and offers a better way of working with mainframe COBOL or character-based screens by enabling integration with Visual Studio or Eclipse, so developers work within a GUI to build, test and deploy mainframe COBOL systems. Check out the dedicated web pages on the Micro Focus mainframe COBOL solution and the Micro Focus distributed COBOL solution.

Alternatively, Host Access solutions manage the transition from green screen to a more contemporary UI that enables end-user access to mainframe applications via web or mobile devices. Check out the Micro Focus mainframe access solution set.

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So, to sum up; a great virtual event marked the official start to the #COBOL60 celebration. But the party isn’t over – we have a lot more planned for this year and beyond, including the Big COBOL Survey for 2020. Watch this space to learn more.

For those that would like to connect with myself and Derek directly, we are on Twitter at: @DerekBrittonUK or @EdAirey and email at: Derek.Britton@microfocus.com and Ed.Airey@microfocuscom

Thanks again all.  Here’s to the next 60 years! – #COBOLRocks!

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