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Programming IT

COBOL Will Outlive Us All 318

jfruh writes "Here's an old computer science joke: What's the difference between hardware and software? If you use hardware long enough, it breaks. If you use software long enough, it works. The truth behind that is the reason that so much decades-old COBOL code is out there still driving crucial applications at banks and other huge companies. Many attempts to replace COBOL applications flopped in the 1980s and '90s, and we're stuck with them for the foreseeable future — but the Baby Boomers who wrote all that code are now retiring en masse."
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COBOL Will Outlive Us All

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  • So Simple! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Grindalf ( 1089511 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @06:21AM (#42881391) Journal
    Writing COBOL is not just easy, it's fun! It takes about a fortnight to work through the manual and become fluent. It uses very English like syntax. It's much easier than FORTRAN or C as it's so small! Lets face it in this world of UNIX massively parallel cloud social web computing, this is hardly a complex problem to solve – it's already been done by the folks that wrote COBOL. A simple database! So get that manual out, and have a try!
  • by ixarux ( 1652631 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @06:25AM (#42881409)
    Yup. I was hired into one of those mainframe companies that worked with COBOL and JCL. The work was the most menial of works I had ever done(after they trained me for 6 months in it).
    The financial sector, the lumbering dinosaur that accepts change only when they have no other option, and the ones maintaining decades-old mainframes really have no incentive to change technologies at the moment. It's easier to just outsource the maintenance and servicing of the mainframes. There are enough of coders (like in the company I joined) in developing countries across the world who would gladly take it up.
    From my experience, there is little development happening any more. I think the day when they run out of people who want to this crappy menial job (which is never) is the day COBOL will go extinct.
  • If it aint broke... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by detain ( 687995 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @06:50AM (#42881515) Homepage
    why bother paying tons of money developing new software, going through the painful growth and ironing out all the bugs of the new software, educating people on the new software, importing your current clients into new software, getting modern hardware to run the new software, installing modern networking equpment for the new hardware to run the new software, etc.. theres just no real reason to upgrade the software. There won't be many new exploits for COBOL based software as well, since its not used by the average person.
  • by Required Snark ( 1702878 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @06:52AM (#42881521)
    COBOL was defined by the "Short Range Committee". It was never intended to last.

    there it was decided to set up three committees: short, intermediate and long range (the last one was never actually formed). It was the Short Range Committee, chaired by Joseph Wegstein of the US National Bureau of Standards, that during the following months created a description of the first version of COBOL. The committee was formed to recommend a short range approach to a common business language.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COBOL [wikipedia.org]

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @08:03AM (#42881859) Journal

    Does anybody know what language(s) are used for the "Dead Hand" second-strike control system that the Russians were working on during the Cold War? Personally, I'd nominate them as the programming languages that will outlive us all...

  • by jandersen ( 462034 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @08:14AM (#42881917)

    So, you didn't like to work on a mainframe, then?

    But don't slag off the mainframe just because it is 'old' technology - the PC architecture isn't all that young either, and the mainframe, believe it or not, is in fact very VERY much on the technological forefront, hardware wise. Mainframes had fiber attached disks before most modern developers had heard of networking.

    Big to huge institutions don't use mainframes because they are too backwards thinking, but because of reliability. In an industry where downtime costs millions to tens of millions per minute, that counts a lot. On a mainfram you can hot-swap just about everything - not just disks, but everything. And if you wish, you can run Linux on it as well; but it is amazing how often the choice is MVS and COBOL; that is because they are just what you need - not multitools like UNIX and C, just a plain old knife meant for cutting only.

  • by DrogMan ( 708650 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @08:43AM (#42882129) Homepage
    The "Input and Validate"
    The "Update"
    and the "Print"

    At least that's what a lecturer told me many years ago when I did COBOL at uny. I didn't get on with it initially, then I got bored and opened the book... Then I learned that what the lecturer was telling me was his idea of what COBOL ought to look like and not generic. It got a little more interesting after that (along with the student competition to see how many errors we could make the compiler generate with the minimal amount of syntax errors - one mis-placed full-stop managed to get it to the limit of 999 once)

    I've not written a COBOL program for over 30 years now. I don't miss it.


  • Re:Batch (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Nerdfest ( 867930 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @08:55AM (#42882227)

    Good or bad programming is not defined by the 'style', it's defined by it's readability, maintainability, reusability and efficiency. Yes, there is a right and wrong. Not black and white right and wrong, but certainly tending towards it. Much COBOL code was written by people who didn't understand that either. It works, and solves the immedaite problem in many cases, but it's a difficult to maintain, difficult to read, tangled mess. Yes, there is well written COBOL, but in my experience, it's rare. Personally, I find even well written COBOL difficult to read because of the verbosity. It's like reading a long paragraph of instructions, where a point form list would be easier to read and understand.

  • Re:Batch (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @09:29AM (#42882471)

    Okay, here's the absolute truth about COBOL.

    First and foremost, it's a language that cannot muck with the underlying hardware. Period.

    IBM will never support anything else on their iron - and I mean never never !!!
    It's too much of a revenue stream.

    I worked at a place once where we tried to get a C compiler for their mainframe. Ain't gonna happen - on the surface, they appear to provide one.
    But that's a façade - an illusion.

    Another thing I was told (this is hard to believe) was that protected memory on mainframes is an option. Read my lips - IBM Mainframes do not
    have protected memory by default
    . It's a purchased option. Guess how many IBMs out there do not have this option? That's correct. MANY!

    So, a bad C program can toast the OS on many of these machines. So, it's not that COBOL can't be converted, it that the conversion brings with it
    a significant risk. Besides, COBOL works. The cost/benefit of converting those many lines of COBOL is the key. A company can upgrade their iron
    to a faster box, without touching a single line of code. I'm sad to say that that is the only language in the world that can hold that chalice. C can't
    (it's only a portable as its underlying libraries and instruction set size) — nothing else even comes close to COBOL's amazing portability.

    CAPTCHA = nights

  • Re:Batch (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Classic53 ( 1181959 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @09:32AM (#42882491)
    I on the other hand am looking forward to what IBM delivers with their COBOL VNext project (http://www.destinationz.org/Community/Evangelizing-Mainframe/June-2012/Join-the-Enterprise-COBOL-Vnext-Managed-Beta-Progr.aspx)!
  • Re:Batch (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @10:12AM (#42882907)

    You probably have not been working with COBOL. The vendors that are supporting it are pushing the technology as much as the C/C++ compiler vendors are.

  • Re:Batch (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dimitrii ( 958525 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2013 @12:04PM (#42884285)

    even tough RPG is ill-reputed as an old static programming language this looks somehow like any other high level language and anyone should understand what's going on here without trying to figure out what that strange INSPECT does

    Back in the late 80's early 90's, I was a co-op for IBM. I wrote an RPG program to rearrange some data file. Because of scope, the program had to be reviewed by a senior programmer.
    "This is just a start. Where is the rest of it. Do you need help?"
    "No. It is complete. Sample input and output files right next to it. I used the cycle"
    "The cycle still works?!"

    I had learned RPG II in HS. The cycle is all that was needed. He showed that program to every programmer that walked into his office.

    The deal it that it all keeps working.

"How many teamsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "FIFTEEN!! YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?"