"Isn't COBOL obsolete?"

People ask me that all the time. I'll tell you what's really obsolete a little later. The simple answer to the COBOL question is no, it's not dead yet.

Why? Because there are more lines of COBOL in production than all other languages combined; Gartner estimates about 180 billion lines. "By some estimates, the total value of the applications residing on mainframes today exceeds US$1 trillion. Most of that code was written over the past 40 years in COBOL." itWorldCanada

Today, COBOL is over 50 years old. It was invented in 1959 and it refuses to die. Between 60 and 80 per cent of all business transactions performed worldwide are processed—very effectively and efficiently—by COBOL programs running on mainframes. Within the financial industry (banks and insurance), COBOL is used extensively to process the vast majority of their transactions. See this article for details and comments by our own Evan Weaver, co-chair of the School of ICT: The future of COBOL: Why it won't go away soon by Brian Bloom on 10 Jan 2012 in ComputerWorld Canada

itWorldCanada
Firms face the Cobol crunch
Survey says green-screen coders still around but getting scarce
By: Gary Anthes(27 Oct 2006),

Cobol, that mainstay of business programming throughout the 60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, is not going away anytime soon. In a Computerworld (U.S.) survey early this year of IT managers at 352 firms, 62 per cent of the respondents reported they actively use Cobol. Of those, three quarters said they use it “a lot” and 58 per cent said they’re using it to develop new applications.

COBOL has been around since 1960. It runs on everything from mainframes to PCs. COBOL applications manage 75-85 percent of the world's business data; 60 percent of the world's code base is still written in COBOL. IBM claims that 30 billion CICS transactions (a unit of measure equivalent in scope to Web site hits) are executed worldwide each day. All that COBOL is not just going to go away. Why do you think Y2K was such a big deal?

People don't want to learn COBOL because they think it's a dead language. In the late 1990s, COBOL programmers were hotter than Java pioneers and made more money. Yes but that was then, this is now. Y2K is long over. All those COBOL systems that could not be replaced (almost all of them) have been fixed and will not be a problem until Y10K when everyone will say, "What! No five digit year? What were they thinking?"

In fact, COBOL programming may become a growth industry.

As of 2001, there are 200 billion lines of COBOL code in 9.5 million applications with an investment of 5 trillion US dollars. Five billion lines of new code will grow every year for the next four years. Although there are 90,000 COBOL programmers in North America, that number is being decreased by death and retirement by 13% a year and being increased by only a very few. ("From the Dustbin, COBOL Rises")

from The Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization: ...
Let's see, that means the living COBOL programmers are each responsible for maintaining 2,222,222 lines of code. Further, after five years there will be only 44,856 COBOL programmers ... and that's rounding up, friends! So, in 2006, each of these programmers will be responsible for producing 111,467 lines of COBOL code. Assuming an eight-hour work day (7,200,000 seconds/year), the COBOL programmers of 2006 will have to produce one line of code every 64.5 seconds as opposed to the leisurely 129.6 window given to the spoiled, lazy COBOL coders of today.

See JOHO, June 17, 2001 and calculate how many years it will take until the planet is, at last, 100% COBOL programmer-free.

What Professionals think of the Future of COBOL: Almost 90 percent of IS Mangers surveyed indicated that COBOL should continue to be offered in college curriculums.


What's really obsolete?

Thousands of programming languages have come along, many are obsolete. Even C is considered obsolete even though it continues to be used in most low level programming. C and COBOL are obsolete in the sense of being "out of date"...there are many languages which are shinier and newer. However, they are not obsolete in the sense of "no longer used". There are no versions of C or COBOL made obsolete because they were replaced with something new. They have been extended and expanded (e.g. Objective C) but not replaced.

BASIC is the most obsolete language in every sense of obsolete. There are a great many versions of BASIC , they even have their own Wikipedia page. When it was supplied with the original IBM PC, there were three versions: cassette, diskette, and advanced. The cassette version, supplied in a non-upgradable ROM chip, was obsolete as supplied — it could not access the diskette drive or communicate with any other computer. Later, there was QBASIC and a number of versions of QuickBasic, then there was Visual Basic versions 1 through 6, now replaced by VB.Net.

People who learned BASIC found their skills obsolesce every time a new version came out. Many old VB programmers consider VB.Net a new language—that's serious obsolescence. In its long history, each version of BASIC became obsolete faster than it could become an established standard — or fully debugged.

People get tired of learning how to do the same things over and over again. Businesses tire of paying programmers to "fix" code broken by new versions of what is supposedly the same language.

The criticism of COBOL is that it's an "old" language. That's a good thing. It's old because it was good enough to get old.

 

REFERENCES:

From the Dustbin, COBOL Rises eWeek May 28, 2001

The COBOL Portal

Mainframe skills, pay at a premium

Cobol versus Java and C#
"My dad programs in Cobal and my younger brother writes Java and C#. I figure no matter which language 'lasts', I've still got at least one person to borrow money from."

Cobol: The New Latin
""This 'dead language' must be embraced and taught


...back to Tim McKenna's offline page