COBOL Leads Us Back To The Future

COBOL has been around since Eisenhower sat in the Oval Office. At one time, it was estimated that 80% of all business applications were written in COBOL — a total that represented more than 2 billion lines of code. That was nearly 20 years ago. Does COBOL still matter to the world of enterprise IT today?

Many people seem to think so. A recent article at readwrite.com told us that All the Rich Kids Are Learning COBOL. But what does that really mean?

And, why do we care? In part, it's because there are lots and lots of applications written in COBOL that remain part of the enterprise IT landscape. And, like many other things with historical foundations, COBOL has a whiff of the "retro-cool" about it: You can even get COBOL dev environments that run on Raspberry Pi. There are a number of options for someone who wants to use COBOL — the real question is why you might want to do so.

The first reason is employability. As noted, there are still plenty of companies running applications built on COBOL. And not all of those applications are archaic: Since 2002, COBOL has had an object-oriented framework. And as you'll see, a number of the options we list have Java as an intermediate target — a strategy that has both plusses and minuses when it comes to performance and compatibility with other applications.

The next reason is readability. COBOL is known as a "verbose" language, especially when it's compared to a very terse language like C++. From a debugging standpoint, COBOL can be like reading a novel: In fact, I'd almost bet that, with a few variables thrown in, you could get arbitrary chapters from Game of Thrones to compile. Of course, all your favorite functions would die depressing, lonely deaths, but still…

So let's take a look at the modern options in COBOL. Let us know whether you're using COBOL — and why. Surely the story will be as compelling as one written in Grace Hopper's legacy language