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COBOL turns 60: Why it will outlive us all

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I cut my programming teeth on IBM 360 Assembler. This shouldn't be anyone's first language. In computing's early years, the only languages were machine and assembler. In those days, computing science really was "science." Clearly, there needed to be an easier language for programming those hulking early mainframes. That language, named in September 1959, became Common Business-Oriented Language (COBOL).

The credit for coming up with the basic idea goes not to Grace Hopper, although she contributed to the language and promoted it, but to Mary Hawes. She was a Burroughs Corporation programmer who saw a need for a computer language. In March 1959, Hawes proposed that a new computer language be created. It would have an English-like vocabulary that could be used across different computers to perform basic business tasks.

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At 60, COBOL continues to power FS

  • At 60, COBOL continues to power FS

    In the world of commerce, disruptive technology can make all the difference, but so often comes from simple idea, and usually one borne out of necessity. Caxton’s printing press was based on the need to produce larger quantities of written material to the court. The automobile was an attempt to support greater workforce mobility to the post-industrial age, while the telephone aimed to improve communications to the late Victorian era. And, of course, they all survived and thrived.

    Looking at FS computing, not much has stuck it out for any length of time, as the digital era heralds all manner of popular, disruptive technology, that so often supersedes what went before. Application programming interfaces (APIs), distributed ledger technology (DLT), blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI). Nothing stays the same.

    Bucking the trend. When good ideas persist

    A couple of exceptions prove the rule, however. Against a post-war scramble to modernise commerce and economic progress, the Common business-oriented language (COBOL) was designed specifically for an easier commercial future. Created in the late 1950s with commercial, governmental and academic minds meeting to manage its creation, the new language of COBOL provided unprecedented readability, simplicity and suitability for large-scale commercial business applications that made it indispensable.

Why COBOL Still Matters After 60 Years

  • Why COBOL Still Matters After 60 Years

    In the world of DevOps, the Agile Manifesto and countless other application delivery frameworks, one has to wonder how an anachronism such as the programming language COBOL (common business-oriented language) has managed to remain relevant. After all, COBOL has its roots back in the 1940s, and was built upon Rear Admiral Grace Hopper’s work on the FLOW-MATIC programming language (a text-based programming language). Hopper, who worked as a technical consultant on the FLOW-MATIC project, is sometimes referred to as the grandmother of COBOL.

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