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Tuesday, 22 September 2009 19:29

Cobol, 50 years on and it's still doing its job

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COBOL, the ubiquitous computer language that emerged at around the same time as the IT industry itself, has just turned 50 and, according to enterprise applications management company, Micro Focus, despite its age, COBOL still plays a pivotal role in running most of the world’s businesses and public services, from powering almost all global ATM transactions, running nearly three quarters of the world’s business applications, and booking hundreds of holidays every single day.

In May this year, Micro Focus published research, which it reported. showed that people still use COBOL at least 10 times throughout the course of an average working day, but despite using the technology so often, only 18 per cent of those surveyed had ever actually heard of COBOL, although equivalent research conducted by the company in the US showed Americans rely on COBOL even more, using it at least 13 times per day. 
 
Micro Focus CTO, Stuart McGill says the name COBOL (COmmon Business-Oriented Language) was agreed during a meeting of the Short Range Committee, the organisation responsible for submitting the first version of the language, on the 18th of September 1959, following a meeting at the Pentagon where guidelines for COBOL were first laid down.

“Despite its age, COBOL still plays a pivotal role in running most of the world’s businesses and public services, from powering almost all global ATM transactions, running nearly three quarters of the world’s business applications, and booking hundreds of holidays every single day. There is understood to be over 200 billion lines of COBOL code in existence, with hundreds more being created every single day.”

According to McGill, COBOL can trace its origins to the very start of the computer age, “yet its applications continue to deliver to businesses and the public sector every single day. In an industry constantly driven by innovation and the ‘next big thing’, it is a real testament to the language’s resilience, flexibility and relevance to the task at hand that it is still so widely used today.

“Customers come to us to modernise their business critical applications – not rip them out – because they hold deep business intelligence and continue to deliver value every single day. The vast majority of these applications have been written in mature languages, such as COBOL.  Very few languages could make the same claim fifty years on.”

And, according to Mike Gilpin, an analyst at Forrester research and former COBOL programmer, 32 per cent of enterprises say they “still use COBOL for development or maintenance,” and he adds, “COBOL is one of the few languages written in the last 50 years that's readable and understandable… Modern programming languages are ridiculously hard to understand.”

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