Kobol updates Cobol

One topic that few people write about these days is Cobol. Aside from the slew of Y2K articles a couple years ago, Cobol has not mustered much attention in recent times. Although Cobol won’t be mistaken for the next hot thing in computing, it still holds up more than its share of large business infrastructures across the planet.

That’s why the announcement of a new Cobol offering on the Linux platform is significant.

The product is Kobol from theKompany.com. Although it’s not an open-source product, Kobol may make Linux more attractive to businesses seeking to migrate Cobol applications from old hardware.

Kobol has several interesting characteristics. First, it has an IDE (integrated development environment). Yes, the beast that used to lurk in the land of punch cards has migrated to a full IDE. As with most modern IDEs, you can automatically compile projects and edit colour-enhanced code in a neatly organized set of windows.

And if that isn’t “21st century” enough for you, Kobol also supports object-oriented Cobol. Granted, to many of us, the notion of object-oriented Cobol is about as appealing as cauliflower-flavored ice cream. But for some folks, it’s a great thing.

Kobol’s multiplatform nature is interesting. Sure, it runs on Linux, but it runs on Windows, too. And soon it is expected to run on Linux on the PowerPC. Not bad for a language that originally thrived on crusty old mainframes.

And many folks will find the cost very attractive.

Because Cobol is business-centric, Cobol compilers are historically pricey animals. There isn’t much demand for “personal use Cobol” in the programming industry (thank heaven), so most compilers have licence fees designed with deep corporate pockets in mind.

Not so with Kobol. With a price point of about US$50 per person, it is quite affordable for everyone from individual developers to a moderately large development group. And, if that is not enough, the price includes unlimited updates to the core code.

Apparently, the Kobol product is actually a cross-compiler. It generates C++ code, which it then compiles using the GNU (Gnu’s Not Unix) C/C++ compiler. While that isn’t the most glamorous solution on the planet, it may work well enough to keep some old Cobol code running in the foreseeable future.

So how good is it? Well, I was never a Cobol coder, so I cannot give a good firsthand opinion. But you can get the only opinion that really matters – your own – by trying it. A free demonstration can be downloaded from www.thekompany.com. The demo versions are apparently fully functional, but they do expire. Demos are available for both Linux and Windows, so give one a spin and tell us what you think.

Pavlicek is an InfoWorld (U.S.) columnist. Drop him a line at pavlicek@linuxprofessionalsolutions.com.