COBOL readies for a leap
New compiler suite for 3000 offers graphical interface
Acucorp is ready to release software for the HP 3000 which
can deliver graphical interfaces and Web connectivity without relying
on outside languages giving the communitys developers
fresh options while staying with a familiar language.
The release of version 5.2 of Extend 5 client-server
software with ACUCOBOL-GT, expected this month after a beta test
program completes, promises e-business and thin client deployment
capabilities for 3000 sites while staying inside the realm of COBOL.
Creating Windows-like screens, or linking COBOL applications with the
Internet, has required some kind of outside language or interface up
to this point, using Microsofts Visual Basic or Java.
Acucorp officials showed a demonstration at the HP
World expo that required only the latest development suite from the
company. The 12-year-old firms software has been refined to
understand the IMAGE database and HP 3000 intrinsics, after running
on dozens of other platforms.
Promises of third-party support for the HP 3000 COBOL
community have emerged in the past, only to be thwarted by the unique
design of the 3000s database and operating system. Fujitsu made
the latest stab in 1998 wanting to deliver a third-party alternative
to COBOL II, the HP-supplied compiler in use at thousands of sites
worldwide. A few months after Fujitsu announced it would investigate
the project, it reported back that the engineering distinctions of
MPE were too great to accommodate.
Acucorp appears to have crossed such a threshold in
its plans, putting seven developers on the project in the last year
a number several times greater than HPs own staffing for
its 3000 COBOL compiler.
Extend 5 is supposed to give COBOL developers a
faster path to modern interfaces, skipping the learning curve of
They dont have to learn the Windows API
in order to get to a graphical interface, said Steve Hjerpe, a
senior systems engineer on the porting team. They use our COBOL
and our standard syntax to describe how they want their screen laid
out, and all the properties of the controls that they want to display
to the user.
Learning the properties is the adjustment in using
Extend 5, a task that Hjerpe compares to designing screen navigation
in COBOLs working storage. Extend 5 uses the SCREEN section in
COBOL to control where a data item appears on the screen. Acucorp
enhanced the SCREEN section items to make them controls a
label, entry field or push button which Extend 5 links to the
Windows API. We take care of the [Windows] dialog for you, but
[users] need to learn the properties of controls, Hjerpe
The software is divided between the HP 3000 host and
any 32-bit flavor of Windows client for client-server deployment,
with communication coming via TCP/IP. COBOL programs run from the
3000. An integrated development environment tool much
like Visual Studio, Hjerpe said lets programmers design
screens for their applications with a drag-and-drop interface that
generates source code.
Companies moving to a Web interface for applications
can use the HTML module in Extend 5. The software employs a CGI
wrapper for submitting data from Web forms, where COBOL programs
accept information from HTML forms, use the HP 3000 intrinsics and
database to retrieve the data, and display it back to the browser in
COBOL programmers can use FrontPage or Dreamweaver,
or have Web developers create those HTML forms. COBOL programs
written using Extend 5 use CGI to write data back to the HTML pages.
Understanding the 3000
Advances such as Windows and Web interfaces in a
COBOL compiler will do the 3000 community little good without
understanding the MPE data structures and intrinsics. Acucorp
director of channel marketing Joe Sieley feels the company has
learned what it needs to know about IMAGE/SQL and the 3000, after two
The intrinsics will be there, because we know
folks want to maintain a VPlus interface and TurboIMAGE access,
Sieley said. At a minimum, weve got to be able to provide
the 3000 folks with what they have, but thats not what
were interested in. Unless folks are interested in doing
something above and beyond what the existing HP compiler provides,
theres no point in us really doing this.
Web capabilities and distributed processing need to
be married with the fundamental data structures of the 3000 for any
third-party COBOL offering to get a foothold in the community.
SIG-COBOL chair Jeanette Nutsford, whos taken a look at the
Acucorp product, said the companys on the right track.
Acucorp is doing some major changes to their
ACUCOBOL on the 3000, and its getting all of the HP
extensions, Nutsford said. The interesting thing
thats caught my attention is that its been ported over
into the Posix namespace, but they are as determined as I am that it
will be run from the MPE namespace. The worst thing for the MPE
programmer is to have to deal with the Posix commands. Acucorp seem
pretty determined to avoid that.
Nutsford took a training course in ACUCOBOL over the
summer, and found it very impressive. In mid-summer she
found the offering, which included support for COBOL macros,
still had a way to go, because they are talking about a
workbench you run on the PC, and a debugger actually debugging the
MPE source, and that will be a huge achievement if they accomplish
that. Acucorp look as if they want to make their workbench work for
us. Theyre doing some amazing things with the Web as
The SIG-COBOL chair didnt want to slight the
other alternative to HPs COBOL compiler, PERCobol from LegacyJ,
which bridges COBOL and Java technology. PERCobol has a place
as well, Nutsford said of the LegacyJ product; it compiles to
J2EE standard Enterprise Java Beans (EJBs) that can be integrated
with other EJBs from Java.
Standards support is one of the areas where third
parties can deliver more to 3000 customers than HP in the next few
years. While HPs compiler team has the new IA-64 architecture
in its sights for the next COBOL, additions from the new COBOL
standard may be slow in coming to the current, PA-RISC version of the
Development resources for the 3000 are an issue for
HPs language labs, which have their hands full making sure
COBOL is supported on the next generation of hardware. Acucorp is
careful about making promises for the new standard, but it is taking
input on what needs to be in its product whose next version is
likely to appear before an IA-64 HP e3000.
The new standard, and the new things well
be able to do with COBOL, will be able to take us forward. As soon as
you start looking at any of the other languages, most COBOL
programmers want to come back to COBOL, Nutsford said.
Economics have changed since HP first introduced its
compiler more than 20 years ago to the 3000 community without runtime
charges. Third parties thrive on such fees today, and Acucorp intends
to charge a runtime fee for applications using its compilers.
We charge for deployment in some aspects,
Sieley said. Were not talking about orders of magnitude
change in price in getting started with the development environment.
To the extent that all somebody wants to do is maintain their current
functionality on the 3000, obviously theres not going to be a
whole lot of desire to pay for a runtime fee. To the extent the
additional capabilities are of value to the end-user, we believe in
most cases we charge for the ability we bring to the table.
Deployables are concurrent-user based, so they
only pay for the users that are actually executing the application at
a given time, Sieley said. Independent software vendors are
charged on an annual basis, which provides for development tools,
unlimited support, and upgrades and discounts for deployment.
Bringing COBOL up to date is important to keeping the
communitys applications mission-critical, SIG chair Nutsford
says. Third-party alternatives have a role to play in that mission.
Modern COBOL offerings play a vital role in
enabling HP e3000 developers to deliver options that address
managements demands for applications to incorporate new
technologies, she said. COBOL-based solutions, such as
those offered by Acucorp, can provide the type of features that
companies need to move forward with the HP e3000.