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Compiler adds Java clients to COBOL applications

PERCobol’s second release brings IMAGE, COBOL II extensions for effective 3000 use

A software product that promised to give COBOL applications access to Java clients is beginning to deliver this fall, as Syncronix releases a version of PERCobol that understands IMAGE intrinsics and COBOL II extensions.

PERCobol Enterprise 2.0 arrives less than six months after the product was introduced to HP 3000 customers at the IPROF programmer’s forum this spring. That version didn’t address database nuances of HP 3000s or the COBOL extensions that make up COBOL II.

“It wasn’t ready for prime-time on the 3000 then,” said Chuck Townsend of Syncronix. “It was a novelty item.”

Townsend said the newest version, which shipped to customers in September, makes the product more useful to MPE/iX developers.

“Java enables us to deploy applications anywhere,” Townsend said. “The things you know and love with COBOL II you can do with our product — but you can then deploy a piece of that logic residing on the 3000 and a piece residing on an NT platform, or in a browser and deploy it anywhere.”

The product lets HP 3000 COBOL programmers create Internet-based applications with a core compiler that generates Java bytestream code from COBOL source code. Complementary tools are included as part of PERCobol to assist COBOL programmers in writing and adding functions for a Java environment.

Townsend said that Synkronix intends for 3000 customers to consider PERCobol as another COBOL compiler for the platform. However, this one generates Java code, “and insulates you from the nuances of Java.” Class libraries from HP for use with Java/iX will let applications developed on an HP 3000 be deployed on any platform that supports Java, including browsers.

“We’re trying to make the 3000 a very effective server,” Townsend said. “We want you to be able to Internet-enable your applications with a language you’re familiar with — COBOL. You can use our tool and go to the 3000, or AIX, or NT.”
Townsend said that once the code is compiled, it will run anywhere. “If you compile it and then allow it to be run through a JIT, then at the time the bytecode is sent, it’s intrepreted and run,” he said.

PERCobol 2.0 for the 3000 supports COBOL II extensions and accesses TurboIMAGE databases. “All the intrinsics you know and love for COBOL will be available in Java later on this year,” he said. In all of its other implementations, PERCobol uses SlickEdit, a graphical programming editor that Synkronix has had tailored to PERCobol.

Version 2.0 for MPE/iX doesn’t support SlickEdit use, but line editing through an HP 3000-based PC editor such as Qedit or Whisper Programmer Studio gives access to the product’s features. Auxiliary tools that hang off SlickEdit, like makebuild, can’t be accessed as easily without the SlickEdit interface.

On the other hand, the software will take Java Beans and encapsulate them for use as COBOL Beans. “You don’t need to write any code,” Townsend said. “We’re built the infrastructure to incorporate that Bean into your COBOL code.”

Interestingly enough, the product isn’t supported on HP-UX systems yet, but works with IBM mainframes, AS/400s, Sun, SCO, OS/2 and Windows NT, 95 and 98 along with MPE/iX. “I didn’t get any cooperation from HP on that [HP-UX] issue, and if they don’t cooperate with me, I can’t do it,” Townsend said.

Using the software will require Java to be installed on the HP 3000, because the product uses Java to install itself on the 3000. That means either an install of the Jazz freeware version of Java/iX or MPE/iX 6.0 will be a prerequisite to using PERCobol.

The software is being sold by Bradmark across six tiers for HP 3000s, and base price is $1,250 for a Tier 1 installation and $30,000 for Tier 6, with annual maintenance fees of 20 percent of the purchase price. The PC version of the product, which Townsend recommends for 3000 developers to get the SlickEdit toolset, costs $1,250 for a single user.

Synkronix also sells a separate utility for converting VPLUS to COBOL Screen Sections or graphic Java screens for $500.

Townsend has appeared before HP COBOL users once before, representing Fujitsu as it investigated a port of its PowerCOBOL product to the HP 3000. The port never took off, but Townsend said PERCobol “is a better solution than that, because we’re working with HP. We’re going to have the best-running Java on the 3000 platform, because we’re going to force it.”

Procedural language skills which are common to COBOL will be enough to shift to the object-oriented world of Java, Townsend asserts. “We don’t want you to concern yourself with object orientation yet,” he said. “We want you to write COBOL code. You need to deal with the object paradigm when you’re doing event-driven programming at a GUI level.”

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