Depending on who you talk to, COBOL is either a dead language or an underappreciated fraternity of specialists who maintain the most mission-critical business systems on the planet.
The folks at Micro Focus, which provides COBOL application development tools, prefer to think of COBOL as a community of people who, up until now, have not had a sponsor for their community in the same way that Sun used to promote Java or Microsoft pushes .Net.
To rectify this oversight, Micro Focus today is launching a COBOL community site where it will invite people interested in advancing the state of COBOL to share tips and identify issues of interest to the general community.
Mark Warren, product management director for Micro Focus, says the ultimate goal is to highlight how vibrant the COBOL language is, which in turn should help attract new recruits to the community.
As part of the effort, Micro Focus is continuing its campaign to bring visual tools to COBOL developers. The company is releasing Visual COBOL R3, which can be integrated with both Eclipse and Microsoft Visual Studio integrated development environments. In addition, the new release makes it possible to deploy COBOL on top of a Java virtual machine or in cloud computing environments based on the Microsoft Azure platform.
All of these additions, says Warren, are designed to integrate COBOL with mainstream development environments where more developers are likely to discover the value of COBOL.
Demand for COBOL developers has been steady over the years because major corporations have major investments in COBOL applications that are not likely to be rewritten in another language any time soon. As such, many of them have interest in extending these applications to other platforms such as Unix or Windows. This latest release, in particular, brings the visual COBOL development environment developed by Micro Focus to Unix and Linux systems, which Warren says have become a popular platform for developing COBOL applications.
Nevertheless, COBOL, which turned 50 in 2009, definitely has a perception problem that Micro Focus is out to fix. And unfortunately for COBOL supporters, perception all too often ends up becoming reality. So if COBOL supporters want to make sure there is a vibrant market for their skills, they will need to help change the perception of the language.