Tuesday, September 15, 2009

COBOL - 50 Years of Long Service in the World of Computers

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Golden Anniversary of COBOL

COBOL which stands for COmmon Business-Oriented Language, is perhaps the oldest language still in use on a large sacle helping to bring about efficiency and automtion in our modern day to day life.

COBOL has been around for the last fifty years when the first seeds were sown for its full fledged development and application way back in 1959.

This year COBOL is celebrating its success for having remained in the market for the last half a century, and are still going strong.

With times COBOL too has undergone several modifications to adapt into its language several features available in modern computer languages such as object-oriented programming and XML generation and parsing.

Significance of COBOL in our Day to Day Life

What is most surprising is that although COBOL has been around for decades and people have been using its services, such as in ATM, not many are however aware of its vast existence and great importance, till date. COBOL has permeated every sphere of our lives and continues to have a firm grip over the business world, even today.

The following facts and figures made available by Jeff Atwood would make it clear that how much COBOL is still relevant in spite of the emergence of many new and innovative computer programmes that most are familiar with.

  • There are over a million COBOL programmers the world over.
  • COBOL transactions surprasses those of Google search by more than 200 times, each day. This figure puts it well ahead than those of web 2.o.that makes it look insignificant in comparison to COBOL.

  • COBOL has helped to provide connectivity to as many as 500 million plus mobile/cell phone users across the globe.

  • COBOL takes care of maintaining records and processing the medical case history and reports of 60 million patients for better diagnosis and prognosis by medical practitioners.

  • COBOL helps in processing as many as 80% of point-of-sales transactions.

  • Around 72,000 shipping containers depend upon the services of COBOL for global freight movementand logistics by land,sea and air.


Is COBOL a Dying Programme?

Way back in 2007, a survey was carried out which placed COBOL at the top amongst those computer programmes that no longer attracts young computer programmers and is expected to die naturally, if its popularity and significance is not revived immediately.


However COBOL is still ancient when it comes to the number of lines of coding thats required to bring the same result as those by other modern computer languages. According to Capers Jones, COBOL takes (IIRC) 90-100 lines of code to express function point, making it 3 times more verbose than Java.

Each line of code cannot exceed 75 characters. Not to mention that you have to literally write out code as if you’re writing a book. Since time is a factor and programs have become more complex than ever before, COBOL has lost much of its relevance.

It continues to be in service especially in large corporations such as Health and Insurance, that has been maintaining records for decades.

Evolution of COBOL

In 1952, Grace Murray Hopper developed a language we today know it as COBOL.The language was one that all understood using phrases that we normally use in English to express anything in words. This language which was close to a natural language, was developed by her to express the operations of business data processing.

In 1959, an industry-wide team was assembled to formulate a common business programming language

COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language) was developed under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Defense in cooperation with computer manufactures, users and universities who met on April 8, 1959, at the University of Pennsylvania Computing Center, led by Joe Wegstein of National Bureau of Standards (now National Institute of Standards and Technology).

The initial specifications for COBOL were presented in a report of the executive committee of CODASYL committee in April of 1960.


Since 1960,COBOL has made several modifications to keep pace with demand and competition from industry and market . It has over the years in the last 50 years emerged as one of the most popular data processing language of the business world. The standard language specification has three levels low, middle and high so that it could be implemented on computers of varying sizes.

Our Gratitude to COBOL

So please express your gratitude to this wonderful computer language COBOL that was devloped so that you and I could enjoy the modern lifestyle that we have taken them for granted, but never acknowledge those who worked to improve COBOL and its applications.

So instead of criticising because of its lengthy codes, let us all appreciate the great contribution this Grand Old Lady amongst Computer programming languages has made since the last fifty years of its existence.

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