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Cobol Enters The 21st Century

New standard for the programming language embraces object-oriented coding techniques
It's official. Cobol 2002 has dragged the language into the modern age of object-oriented programming, making it easier for companies to integrate Cobol applications with their other systems.

DYING BREED CHARTCobol 2002 implements changes to the language that are "long anticipated and long overdue. It's the biggest change ever in Cobol," says Don Schricker, chairman of the standards committee that paved the way for Cobol's modification and adoption by the International Standards Organization and the International Committee for Information Technology Standards.

The object-oriented features make it easier to develop discrete modules of code and have them interoperate with other systems. "It's easier to make things plug and play," Schricker says. Cobol developers who want to take advantage of the features will have to adopt a new Cobol compiler. These are available from IBM, starting at around $900, and other vendors.

There are roughly 2 million Cobol programmers still active in the world, according to research from Gartner, but that number is expected to drop to 1.5 million by 2007. By early next year, the number of Java programmers worldwide will exceed the number of Cobol programmers.

Nevertheless, 200 billion lines of Cobol code are still in use, and 30 billion Cobol transactions are executed daily, more than the number of hits on the Web, says Charles Dickerson, VP of marketing at Relativity Technologies Inc., a supplier of tools for updating Cobol applications.

Cobol 2002 "will be great if you're writing new applications," says Vijay Lal, director of product marketing at NetManage Inc., which specializes in giving developers access to mainframe applications, including Cobol. But companies shouldn't expect any quick fixes. Lal says it will take time for Cobol programmers to pick up the object-oriented programming methods, which until now have been alien to the language.