The Cobol programming language, developed in 1959 and based on earlier work by U.S. actress and military technology expert Grace Hopper, seems to have a future even in the newfangled world of Web services. The keeper of the flame is Micro Focus International Ltd., which recently announced the first product enabling Cobol code to be deployed directly as a Web service without requiring third-party software. The vast majority of the world’s business applications are still written in older languages like Cobol. “For most banking and insurance companies, those (Cobol) systems are their business and their differentiation from the competition, and they’re not about to throw them out,” said Ian Archbell, vice-president of product management in Micro Focus’ Sunnyvale, Calif., office.

Micro Focus is gearing up to help companies unlock their existing software assets and “tie together the traditional world and the new world.” He says Micro Focus is investing 20 percent of its revenue in R&D to cover three areas: making sure that Cobol is a “first-class citizen” when Web services are used to integrate applications, that Cobol and Java interoperate, and that XML support is provided.

WebSphere portal focused on collaboration

IBM Corp. has released new WebSphere Portal collaboration features, based on technology from the company’s Lotus software line.

Demonstrated earlier this year at the company’s Lotusphere conference, the new features will be included in future releases of WebSphere Portal, and are available now to licensed users as a free download. Dubbed the Collaboration Center, the feature set includes portlets for searching company directories and organizational charts, managing Lotus Team Workplace (formerly Lotus QuickPlace) workspaces, and interacting with Lotus Web Conferencing (formerly Lotus Sametime).

Portlets are content components displayed in a portal, comparable to windows on a PC desktop. In a related announcement, IBM said it and its business partners have recently added 200 new portlets and portlet builders to the WebSphere Portal Catalog, enabling new knowledge management and search/retrieval functions, as well as content delivery features for pushing to users information such as news bulletins.