COBOL meeting shows languages
HP World session focuses on options for new environments
By Steve Hammond
Pursuant to the events of November 14, 2001, the
Energizer Bunny can no longer be the mascot of MPE. And the way
things are looking these days, the grande dame of programming
languages, COBOL, can adopt the stance of that fuzzy little guy
because the 2003 meeting of SIGCOBOL showed us that the
language has legs for many more strong years.
Jeannette Nutsford led a meeting that covered both
ends of the COBOL spectrum from discussion of standards to
revival meeting evangelism. The meeting at the Georgia World Congress
Center covered all the bases of what she called our best and
most loved language.
After Jeannette was convinced to extend her SIG
leadership for another year, she discussed how she and her partner
Ken have represented Interex and its membership on both the US-based
J4 COBOL Standards committee and the international WG4 Standards
committee. She reported that the next COBOL standard will be COBOL
2008 and her pet enhancement, dynamic tables, should be included in
it. Dynamic tables allow a program to run one time with 500 entries
in a table and 200 in the next, dynamically expanding and contracting
to accommodate the data.
Any member of Interex and SIGCOBOL is invited to
attend these J4 standards meetings. So if you feel a need to speak
out for an enhancement, Jeannette and Ken will be happy to take up
your cause, or you can do so yourself.
The meeting was then turned over to vendor
presentations. Acucorp, Transoft, MBS, Microfocus, PIR Group, The
Kompany and Fujitsu all gave short presentations about their
respective products and services. The choice of environments to
migrate onto keeps growing Linux, .NET, HP-UX, Sun and AS/400
are all now migration options that these vendors and their products
offer and support.
HPs Randy Roten then announced that a patch has
been released to correct a long-standing (but only recently
The bug, which has only been encountered in one large
program, occurs when you are using the optimize option. When using
any version of COBOL/iX prior to and including A.04.21 (the most
recent) and OPTIMIZE=1, instructions may be reordered to cause silent
data corruption. There is only one reported case of this and HP has
been unable to duplicate the problem in a small program.
This case involves a MOVE of spaces to some (non-word
aligned) target fields followed by two MOVEs from the source fields
to the same target fields. It will work fine unoptimized, but
OPTIMIZE=1 caused one of the reordered instructions (the one that
blanks the first byte of the target) to be executed in the wrong
sequence (after the first byte was moved to the target).
The defect has been fixed in version A.04.22 of the
COBOL compiler available in patch COBMXJ7 A/B/C for MPE/iX
6.5/7.0/7.5. In order to release the COBOL compiler with this fix to
the Backend, another Backend defect had to be fixed as well. This
defect involved performance issues (for more details, see
JAGae39390). Previously, the Backend had new millicode routines added
to support the new C language data type long long. There
was a dramatic performance degradation found in a very atypical COBOL
benchmark program that did numerous multiplies so COBOL was rebuilt
with the older Backend as a workaround. To fix this problem, some
code was changed to decide whether to bind the new millicode (for C)
or the old millicode routines (for everyone else). A compiler has to
be rebuilt with this new Backend before it will behave differently
and COBOL is the only affected language as of this time.
Randy took some heat because the patch is not
available for MPE 6.0.
Then the fun began. The vendor representatives came
to the front for a question and answer session that quickly became a
mass repudiation of the legacy and obsolete
labels that have been attached to COBOL programs recently. Tim
OBrien of Fujitsu pointed out that a Gartner Group study
reports there are over 280 billion lines of COBOL codes in regular
use today. (Point of reference: if you counted one number per second,
it would take over 8,000 years to count to 280 billion.)
This obsolete language still handles a
vast majority of business processing done today. Irving Abraham of
Microfocus noted that they have a customer managing a Formula 1
racing team that uses COBOL programs and that many ATM machines have
COBOL embedded on chip handling their processing.
Unfortunately, the MTV/Nintendo generation of
programmers being produced today have minimal exposure to COBOL.
Luckily, this is changing. Mike Jones of Acucorp reported that he has
heard recently that recruiters are having trouble placing recent
college graduates who only have Java on their resumes. But a
combination of COBOL with one of the newer languages seems to make
the candidate more placeable. There followed a discussion
of how important it is to get colleges to understand this reality and
to keep COBOL in the curriculum. There has been some success as the
universities start to see the realities of the job market.
Members of the SIG pointed out that COBOL is a
strong, stable, secure language. One attendee noted that most of the
recent system hacks attack bytestream-oriented languages.
Since COBOL is not bytestream-centric, it is inherently far more
As the meeting drew to a close, one speaker pointed out
that a 13-year-old Bill Gates cut his programming teeth on a
time-share DEC computer, modifying a COBOL payroll program. If the
language was good enough for him, it should still be good enough for
the rest of us.