COBOL and Micro Focus – investment that pays dividends

Every year, Micro Focus commits huge sums to R&D work. Derek Britton takes a look at what happens to these ‘invisible investments’ – and how they benefit our customers…

It’s strange that even as major car marques like Ferrari and Jaguar are investing in innovative, modern designs and features for new models, they are simultaneously supplying a huge catalogue of spares for models discontinued many decades previously.

But why? Simple: because people like and trust proven technology that keeps delivering. Many of these GT40s, Testarossas and E-Types remain in daily use, serving thousands of dedicated motorists who are happy to support a ‘legacy’ purchase with continued investment. The drivers appreciate reliability and quality and manufacturers recognise the value in ongoing support for a core product.

We are no different. If you read our previous blog about the ‘hidden cost’ of free software you will understand that while Micro Focus is not in the business of fuelling the growing ‘false economy’ market, we’re happy to help disaffected customers looking for real value. That is why we focus our energies, innovation and R&D budgets on proven technology. And that’s what this blog is all about –how we improve and evolve our technology through continued investment.

Figure it out

In our annual report you’ll see that Micro Focus invests nearly $55M in R&D and the majority of that budget is in Micro Focus’ COBOL and mainframe solutions. Year after year, Micro Focus continually commits more R&D investment to COBOL than anyone else in the software industry. But why?

COBOL is now in its sixth decade – older, even, than the E-type Jaguar – and in an industry apparently obsessed with the Next Big Thing, that can only be bad news. But that would be to underestimate the quality of the product and its residual value to the people who matter most – our customers. For drivers, read IT Managers, CIOs – and anyone who depends on a so-called legacy application to underpin day-to-day business functions.

annualreportIt has always been this way. In 1976, the Micro Focus founders built a company based on providing a COBOL environment on microprocessors. Since that year, no-one has invested more in COBOL support across a broad set of vendor problems. And this commitment continues today with our R&D acting as a production line for the innovations and updates that keep COBOL not just relevant, but future-proof.

Built to last

Application code, like classic cars, must be great to use and easy to work on, because both are only as good as the people who will maintain them in the future: inevitably, more time will be spent on maintenance and enhancement than the original implementation.

Business application developers enjoy working with COBOL, the closest language to conventional English prose out there, the go-to language of hundreds of thousands of developers.

Because COBOL is a flexible, free-format language with no formal format or structure, programmers can impose their own and Micro Focus has stuck with COBOL through its many ISO and ANSI standards. By the 1970s, when the ANSI74 COBOL standard was agreed, COBOL had become the most widely-used programming language in the world.

We’ve kept across the dialects, with the latest version of Visual COBOL covering 25 dialects, including BM OS/VS COBOL, IBM OS/VS COBOL II, IBM COBOL/400, IBM Enterprise COBOL, AcuCobol-GT, RM/COBOL, Bull GCOS, HP Tandem, COBOL-IT and of course, Micro Focus COBOL.

If you’ve worked with COBOL for as long as we have, then you will have extensive business logic built into your applications. This is where your unique and irreplaceable competitive advantage lives. Maximizing this investment and market opportunity depends on being able to use these applications in new environments for decades to come.

With the introduction of Visual COBOL, Micro Focus raised the bar for the next generation of COBOL development and deployment. Built on a rich heritage of continuous innovation, Visual COBOL combines the residual build quality of COBOL with modern IDE productivity.

Visual COBOL is where key business-critical COBOL applications can be deployed to Windows, Unix, Linux, .NET, JVM and the cloud – and where our R&D dollars pay off for our customers. It is these investments in time and testing that help to deliver innovative technology that enables our customers to modernize their core IT systems and access high-quality services.

Pick a platform. Any platform.

Platform portability is key to the ongoing success of our customers’ applications, so we execute thousands of test cases across every supported operating system and processor combination. So you know that wherever your application is deployed it will work.

With more than 50 platforms currently supported, and continuing investment from Micro Focus embracing new platforms such as RHEL, Windows 8 and Azure, the story continues. This is on top of the 500 platforms we have supported over the years.

And this remains an ongoing commitment. The latest versions of Eclipse and Visual Studio are the result of our working directly with Eclipse and Microsoft on new releases. One application modernization partner even demonstrated Visual COBOL integration with Google Glass at a recent Developer Day show. But if that isn’t what you need, then there is another way…

Support contracts are like having a direct line into our development studio. As well as helping to ensure ongoing support for the product – and the next wave of enhancements – customers on the higher support levels can request the specific enhancements and additional facilities they need. It is a winning system – every year Micro Focus adds dozens of product enhancements that meet customer needs, satisfy specific demands and answer the questions the market is asking.

Our pioneering pedigree is very strong. Consider the history of pioneering innovation from Micro Focus – the first COBOL compiler for ‘microprocessors’, the first COBOL visual debugger, the first Windows-based product and the first 32- and 64-bit products. We were also the first to market with mainframe CICS emulation, and, later object-oriented COBOL. Recent innovations around IDE support, managed code, mobile, cloud are just the latest in a long line of pioneering innovations from Micro Focus. These things don’t create themselves. For us, innovation is a mix of inspiration and investment.

Conclusion: building on success

While the ‘classic car’ analogy is sound, and makes the point about residual value – and the logic in supporting older technology – very well, in truth COBOL has left the Ferrari GT40 in its slipstream.

Because from the moment it leaves the production line, the car is forever frozen in time. It is as good as it can ever be. But COBOL has continued to evolve, supported by millions of Micro Focus R&D dollars, into a contemporary and future-proof asset that will continue to be refined and improved as the market demands.

COBOL has five key touchpoints that continue to resonate today.

• Portability
• Fitness for purpose
• Readability
• Heritage
• Future-proofing

Micro Focus continues to build on these core values and support the COBOL solution – Visual COBOL, ACU-COBOL, RM/COBOL, Net Express and Server Express – with the investment needed to ensure our customers continue to drive forward on the journey to future success.

 

Godfrey

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