From the Editors: Long live COBOL

COBOL, it appears, is the new Y2K.
As the language turns 50 this year, organizations find themselves in a game of “Beat the Clock” to train a new generation, as the developers and IT administrators who pioneered the development and application of this programming language move into their retirement years.

As Alex Handy lays out in the first of this three-part series on “COBOL at 50,” the language has not only survived, it has thrived in the face of a lifetime of computing advances, and in the face of those who said repeatedly over the years that the language was doomed to die.

The software development industry is not the first to face the issue of an aging workforce taking its knowledge with it as it rides off into the sunset. And SD Times and other publications have been reporting on this for the past number of years. But there is a bright side.

It appears that the current state of the economy is prompting organizations to look back to their COBOL-powered mainframe installations as a way to reduce the costs by leveraging its computing capacity instead of building out bigger rack- and blade-server installations.

While middle-aged programmers who cut their teeth on Visual Basic, C and C++ are loathe to work with COBOL, Alex points out that younger engineers who grew up with PCs in their bedrooms actually are embracing COBOL as another area of knowledge that might help them land a job more quickly.

Some colleges and universities still teach COBOL, while others have moved on to Java and the other object-oriented languages. We’re not sure if that’s because they’re ahead of the curve, or really, really behind the curve. Whatever. The fact that this coursework still is available to students entering college is all that matters. Giving those applications newer-looking front ends (Green is for screen … YUK!) will make it more appealing to the kids who grew up with Web applications that are lightning fast and easy on the eyes.

But “legacy modernization,” on which the drive to move applications off the mainframe onto more current platforms is based, should only go so far. Too many companies have too much riding on their mainframes, and the COBOL that their applications are written in, to simply abandon them. The benefits of mainframe computing and COBOL are clear. COBOL is dead? Long live COBOL!

Sun: Support the OpenJDK
When Sun first said it would spearhead an effort to create an open-source Java, we were skeptical. The company has a habit of calling things open source, and then trotting out one or two non-Sun employees to prove it. But behind the scenes, it's usually Sun's developers and engineers who do most of the heavy lifting. That has turned out not to be the case with the OpenJDK, where many individuals have shown up to help rebuild Java in the GPL's image.

It is unfortunate, then, that these generous souls have been taken almost for granted by the company. Not only do they have to sign their IP rights over to Sun in order to contribute (something that is antithetical to the open-source and GPL movements), they've also been laboring under an interim governance board that seems unwilling or unable to move the legal process surrounding the OpenJDK forward.

Sun, it seems, has abdicated its role of leading the Java community since the Oracle acquisition announcement. The "interim" tag was supposed to be off the board this year; instead, Sun said it was dissolving the board, and then extended its life another year.

A key issue here is the Java Compatibility Kit. Sun derives revenue from its Java licenses and has been overly protective of the kit. Thus, open-source efforts such as OpenJDK and the Apache Harmony project have not been able to get certified. Sun worked out a deal with Apache; we call on Sun to immediately do the same for OpenJDK. With the talk of IBM or other companies forking Java under an Oracle stewardship, the OpenJDK might become the true standard.

Yet, if Sun doesn’t take this step, we expect Oracle will. That company won’t feel the need to clutch Java to its breast for fear of losing meager revenue. After all, while Sun has long had trouble selling its software, no one can say that Oracle has had any issues in that regard.

BY SD Times News Team

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