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October 2002

Acucorp ships new COBOL tool family

Delay provides time to tune features; run-time pricing remains unchanged

COBOL compiler supplier Acucorp has shipped its 5.2.2 version of its extend5 family of COBOL development tools, including AcuCOBOL-GT, the COBOL compiler for the HP 3000 that includes MPE nuances and provides a path toward other environments.

The software includes a “-Cp” option on the compiler, which allows AcuCOBOL-GT to accept the non-ANSI features of 3000’s COBOL II, such as $IF, $COMMENT, $PREPROCESSOR and $INCLUDE directives and macro calls with parameters. It also supports COBOL II intrinsic functions defined in the file hpcobol.h, and so provides direct access to the TurboIMAGE and VPlus interfaces.

The company announced one year ago it would be shipping its software, but found that the HP announcement of last November offered a reason and an opportunity to hold back on the product for additional features and tuning.

“After the announcement we got a sharp upturn in interest in both the quantity and the intensity,” said Business Development Manager Joe Sieley. “We got a lot of input about doing a number of things that would help people homestead or begin to convert in anticipation of a transition strategy off the machine.”

Acucorp’s compiler differs in two notable ways from the COBOL II model: it generates platform-independent portable object code, and relies on run-time modules licensed per user. Engineer Chuck Edgin asserted that the finished code, while not native like COBOL II, doesn’t suffer from performance comparisons.

“The speed of your application is usually the speed of your disk access,” Edgin said. “We find performance differences between our run time environment versus native executables are insignificant.” The company doesn’t have benchmark statistics, but it has benefited from working closely with SIG-COBOL co-chair Jeanette Nutsford, as well as HP’s Bill Bennett and language labs lead Randy Roten.

Company officials said HP’s new direction away from the 3000 market hasn’t spooked the customer base, and it sees as much opportunity than before, if not more.

“A lot of folks are not looking to stampede off the box today,” Sieley said. “We did interviews with the beta testers, and asked them if they’d want us to release later, and implement some of things they’ve been asking for. The majority of them said, ‘Do it right, and we’ll wait, and here are the things we’d like to see.’ We decided to implement some of those things.”

Now AcuCOBOL has a KSAM file interface, but it’s always had its own file system, which has been better tuned for the HP 3000. The software takes advantage of AcuBench, a GUI-based developed environment under Windows that can develop graphical screens and manage projects. AcuBench can compile locally or place compiled objects automatically on an HP 3000.

During the last year of development, the long-awaited COBOL standard has been ratified, giving the company a new set of features to shoot for in subsequent releases. HP 3000 customers won’t ever see the new COBOL commands, so third party options like Acucorp’s give them a way to move toward the future.

“The ability to convert COBOL II to new COBOL is very desirable to some people,” Sieley said, “as opposed to ‘I’m going to switch COBOLs at the same time as I switch platforms,’ a bit of a double whammy.” New standard support, which was only finalized in the week Acucorp started sending out AcuCOBOL-GT, “is not necessarily one of those features folks want right out of the chute.”

Migration-bound customers and software partners are among the primary targets for the new compiler. Demand Wave Solutions, a 3000 ISV formerly known as SATCOM with order fulfillment services and software, recently selected Acucorp as the COBOL vendor of choice in a migration project that will move its BOSSgold order management system from the HP 3000 to the HP 9000.

Demand Wave was looking for new places to market its solution. Software from ScreenJet Ltd. that integrates with AcuCOBOL-GT will make the transition possible. “We knew we wanted to expand into other markets, and in order to do that, we needed to migrate this version of BOSSgold from the HP e3000,” said Demand Wave COO Martin Vaughn. “Acucorp and ScreenJet provided us with all the tools necessary to complete the migration successfully and, ultimately, increase our customer base and revenue streams.”

Homesteading customers also have a new option to continue using COBOL applications with a compiler that will be updated. “Developers now have a choice as to whether they maintain their applications on the existing HP e3000 hardware, or move them to another platform,” said Acucorp’s HP e3000 Specialist Stephen Hjerpe.

Run time costs for the solution have made the company careful about quoting the price for its solutions to the press, since the expense of paying for concurrent users is new to the MPE community. Company officials would only report that “the list price for the ACUCOBOL-GT development system starts at $1,500, as does the list price for AcuBench. A Windows 2000 10-user deployment license is $800. Please keep in mind that Acucorp offers a number of special pricing programs for service providers, resellers and independent software vendors depending on such variables as the modules required, the number of users and the desired platform.”

Competitors at HP World were touting their non-runtime licensing policy as a key differentiator to the Acucorp prices, something 3000 customers wouldn’t have to budget extra for. Acucorp was confident the extra expense is worth it.

“We’ve got a business model difference,” said Sieley. “There is a remarkable amount of value in the run-time model. This distribution comes with a debugger, a file system, it’s portable, scalable, and very high performance. We’re got 4,000 customers worldwide, including 1,000 ISVs. It allows them to make money because it’s powerful.”


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