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Is Your Next Language COBOL?

Not Your Father's Cobol

You'll find, if you decide to take a look at Cobol, that it has become in many ways a truly modern language. The 1985 standard introduced structured programming and the 2002 standard gave Cobol object-oriented capability. In 2005, Ralf Lammel and Kris De Schutter demonstrated that even classic, preobject-oriented Cobol, was well suited for aspect-oriented programming ( Modern implementations demonstrate that Cobol can play well with other languages and technologies on their playgrounds.

Nevertheless, Cobol is still verbose, still very 1959 in its syntax, still—Cobol. Is there any way to make programming in Cobol sexy? Author and Cloud Architect Lewis Cunningham says, Yes, if you make it run on a JVM.

That's what Veryant ( has done. Its Cobol Application Platform Suite translates Cobol source, written in a GUI on your preferred platform, into Java classes that are executed with the Java Virtual Machine. The Cobol Runtime Environment is implemented in Java, making the code highly portable. Cunningham says, "I hope I never have to code Cobol again. But if I do, I would at least want it to be portable."

Porting Cobol code can be a huge task, but Cobol itself may be the most portable programming language. The Eclipse Foundation has a project to develop a fully functional Cobol IDE for the Eclipse platform ( "Our focus," they say, "is Cobol application development on Windows/Solaris/Linux for deployment on each platform." And IBM, Microsoft, Fujitsu, Micro Focus, and Veryant are major players in making Cobol maximally portable.

Micro Focus ( produces nonmainframe tools for understanding, porting, and developing Cobol code, and products that support native implementations of CICS, JCL, and IMS DB/TM on Windows, UNIX, and Linux. Micro Focus embraces the "own dogfood" principle: Gary Crook, Micro Focus's Worldwide Vice President, Product Development, says, "the very core of our product set, the Cobol compiler, is itself written entirely in Cobol and we use our own Cobol for the development of new features and products."

Last year, Micro Focus and Microsoft announced a strategic relationship to help businesses modernize Cobol apps by porting them to the Windows platform, so a lot of Micro Focus development happens in the world of .NET, J2EE, and Web 2.0. Micro Focus's Cobol implementation within .NET, Crook says, "is on a par with any other .NET language in terms of capability."

All this, Crook says, adds up to making businesses more agile in squeezing value from their IT assets and delivering more value to the business. For this reason, Cobol "will continue to evolve by retaining a simple focus on delivering agility to the market."

And what is sexier than agility?

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