back to article COBOL thwarts California's Governator

Inspite - or perhaps because - of its "difficult" birth, Common Business Oriented Language (COBOL) has become a survivor in the world of computing. That's caused problems when it comes to maintaining systems running the language. COBOL has now taken center stage in the rumbling controversy over the State of California's budget. …

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Anonymous Coward

Cobol???? WTF

Get rid of that legacy crap.

Try the links below:

http://gotlegacy.net/

or

http://www.maketechnologies.com/

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Boffin

Cobolnator

OK, someone had to say it. Now get on with working.

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I'm here for Sarah Connor

...and a good public ridicule.

Oh, how we laugh.

+1 vote for Article of the Month.

B

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Get rid???

No way - the final guarantee of our survival is that even after Skynet takes over, 6 months later it'll still need some nonagenarian beardy to maintain it...

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Anonymous Coward

Shhhh!

I liked Y2K... Much panic... Much $$$ (Well £££)

And I'm still in my 30s... JUST!

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Easier said than done

It's easy to say "get rid of it", harder to get rid of millions of lines of code dating back up to 30 years, which _work_. Who pays to rewrite those systems? And why would they, when they work?

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If ...

I always thought that COBOL's

IF A=2 OR 3 THEN

was more elegant than other language's

IF (A=2) OR (A=3) THEN

I'm sure that must be the real reason for its longevity.

[/sarcasm]

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Alert

A Tad Simplistic ...

Think of it this way ... if COBOL were running your life support machine would you really want to just chuck it out and starting again? No. Of course not. So why should people whose paycheck depends on it be any different?

It's not just a switch you can flick and anyone who thinks it is is obviously sitting in front of their PC writing software for themselves and no-one else. "Managed change", it's what keeps business running. A few years out in industry and that would be painfully clear to you.

"Get rid of that legacy crap" - reminds me of when I was young and stupid. Now I'm just ... Hang on. That's not worked ...

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Nice one, IBM

$30bn for a payroll system. Three years.

I mean, I know it's a little more complicated than that, but still - $30bn!?

Of course the real WTF(TM) is that adjusting salaries requires code changes. I smell a rat.

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Paris Hilton

Why not

Why would they need to 'reconfigure' the system, I'd say a payroll system already has ways to increase or decrease payment?

Otherwise, hire some people to manually enter the reduced wages, probably a lot cheaper :)

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Go

@AC

What? You moron! If the state actually spent money to upgrade, they wouldn't be in this mess.

Friends of mine still work at the Florida state university system IT department.

For literally decades, state computer departments have been going "can we upgrade from this frigging COBOL???!! PLEEEEZE?!!" and the state goes "NO MUNNY 4 J00!!"

You really don't think the IT departments have been fighting to keep COBOL, do you?

So they end up in this... er... state.

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Pirate

something fishy here

I would be surprised if a pay rise were not implemented recently, or if it took so long. Does COBOLl not accept negatives?

Well done the old buckaroos.

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Flame

@AC

> Get rid of that legacy crap.

Sure... just turn it all off... shut 'em down...

Oh, dear, the world's banking systems just stopped... so did the majority of the international financial services sector... I wonder what happened..?

Get a brain and a life, dweeb.

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ROFLMAO

Hey Governator...

I can find you and entire reitrement home full of programmers who will be happy to do the work, will cost you 12 Bn, 10 BN for me, and 2 Bn for the meds to keep them ALIVE long enough to do it........

Shouldn't take more than 4 months if we give them extra prune juice and make them skip naptime....

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Stop

$30 BILLION?

That's obviously a typo - it must be $30 million, in which case it's a tiny proportion of the budget deficit (although still a ridiculous sum of money).

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Dijkstra killed COBOL?

Oh, I wish he gave his opinion on VB then ...

Anyway, even with COBOL shortages, there are COBOL programmers out there, the thing is they're scarce so they'll charge a lot for their expertise. So trying to go cheap just won't help the Governator!

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Dead Vulture

In this case it's just an excuse

The republican governer reduced salaries, the democrat councillor refused to implement the cuts. There was a law suit, the council lost and now they have come up with a "The dog ate my homework" excuse to prevent them carrying it out.

You can bet that if there was a need to raise salaries they would find a solution pretty quickly.

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$30bn for new software?

What the fuck are they going to do, buy a small country to do the coding for them?

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Joke

COBOL - I'll be back =D

Lub COBOL, But seriously are they finding that hard to find programmers - should be lots given they got rid of a load of COBOL programmers. Oh wait, the ironey, the pain.

--

PIC X OCCURS DEPENDING UPON LAUGHS

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Not just nonagenarians

I'm 60 years away from being a nonagenarian and was a COBOL programmer at 23 - and I don't have a beard either! I think procedural languages still have their merits for things like Payroll, though it must be badly written to take 6 months to implement the changes

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Some prevarication is afoot.

COBOL is not. in all fairness, a hard language to learn, just a very very ugly and painful one to code in, but it's not intrinsically any harder to maintain than any other language, if you know the way of it.

Any competent code monkey can pick up COBOL. They might become psychotic and top themselves afterwards, but it's doable. There isn't anything particularly magical about it that makes it any different from other languages. It's a bit bondage and discipline, and has some funny ideas about whitespace, but then so does Python.

I speak COBOL, and have worked on some crawling horrors of legacy systems that were built with it, often times running in a machine emulator of dubious virtue pretending to be old ICL kit. It's never impossible, just often unpleasant. But much legacy systems work is unpleasant, it's just the nature of the beast.

So someone is telling the governator porkies, methinks. Maybe I'll shoot him an email with my CV.

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Paris Hilton

Gwan then

Who needs a CICS programmer? This COBOL debacle is nothing compared to what will happen when that goes wrong for someone.

Fair enough, it's not a language, but the principle is the same. Most of the world hasn't even heard of it. Most would assume that something computer related that's almost 40 years old must be dead, but that's just the same sort of breathtaking ignorance shown by modern PHBs (including el Governator) when it comes to "Legacy" stuff.

I know I'm preaching to the converted here, but ask any of your nearby PHBs if they've heard of it, or if they know what Microsoft's actual software market share is in terms of cashflow and you'll realise they really just don't have a clue (To save you looking it up, It's around 10%, most people will say 80% or more)

Paris, because she's the kind of PHB I could live with - easier on the eye than most, and dead easy to baffle...

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@Andrew Ducker

"Who pays to rewrite those systems? And why would they, when they work?"

I'm glad you asked. Who pays the guys maintaning the system at present? And does the system really work, given the ... issue ... raised in the article?

I'm pretty sure that IBM would be more than happy to do work for $30bln, but I'm also sure the work can be done much cheaper. And faster.

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Gates Horns

Shouldn't this be a great project for Microsoft to demonstrate it's migration skillz?

Oh, but they tried that with Hotmail and that didn't go so well...

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Excellent

My rate for COBOL is double that for Java etc so no complaints from me if someone wants to pay me for it.

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Coat

Must.... Resist.... Temptation.....

No, you know what, I know a bit of that language. I'm off to start a legacy-systems consultancy firm called the Lords of Cobol!

It's the ones with the viper pilot badge on it.

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Jobs Horns

Crufty design

In a former life, as a COBOLer, what struck me was the way all literal fields were hard-coded into the reports. This meant that when the company changed names, we had to go through every single report and amend the appropriate PICT fields. Could have all been fixed with a few lines of code to read such details from a file at the start of a batch run.

I suspect California's payroll is held on ISAM files, which should be easy enough to patch en masse, with a bit of effort. There's probably even an ODBC driver available! Sounds like the old-timers and their managers have colluded to drag their heels on this chage. Can't think why.

Steve would be more than happy to sell California some "modern" cr@p to replace the lecagy cr@p.

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@AC

"I liked Y2K... Much panic... Much $$$ (Well £££)"

I didn't. You had NO IDEA how disappointed I was when not one single system went down. Hell, my lights didn't even so much as FLICKER!

How dare they get us all worked up expecting a great show and then deliver NOTHING!

Bastards.

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COBOL.net

Go on Microsoft, you know you want to get a piece of the COBOL action. Roll out COBOL.net...

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COBOL?

Man, that takes me back.I had a buddy at college that wrote a COBOL compiler in COBOL. The listing was about 6" thick.

COBOL - The real meaning of the acryonym is "Completely Overrated Bastard Of a Language"

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Anonymous Coward

Nowt wrong with COBOL

Like any other language it has its weaknesses (maths) and its strengths (compute). The problem with most of the older code is that it was programmed back in the day before things like commenting, frameworks and standards were commonplace.

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Stop

How much!?

A replacement system for $30bn? 10,000 programmers at $1 million p.a.? Before packing my bags to head on over there I checked the original article and re-thought my plans when I read it was only $30 million that was quoted.

Maybe that's the tactic that the IBM sales team should have used...

"New system? That'll be $30bn."

"How much!?"

"OK, we can do it for a 1000th of the price."

"That's better. Where do I sign?"

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RW
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COBOL

Dijkstra's comments anent COBOL are an exaggeration. It's quite easy to write structured code in COBOL merely by showing a little discipline in your coding style. Indeed, the COBOL got rid of the infamous "go to depending on" construct quite a while ago, though it left the "go to" intact.

In saying this, I am not claiming that all those billions of line of COBOL code are structured: in my working days I saw some horrific tangles of COBOL spaghetti code, but that was equally true of all the older languages: Fortran, PL/1, even Algol.

It wouldn't surprise me in the least to read that the backends of some modern online systems have been written in COBOL.

AFAICT, the languages most often used today embody their own very serious defects. The interminable issue with buffer overflows is due to the absence of built-in array bounds checking, and there are intricacies to the syntax of the C family of languages that make them prone to whole new classes of programming errors that can be extremely difficult to isolate.

COBOL, by its very wordiness and its demand that everything be explicitly declared, precludes many such errors.

No, I'm not saying that we should re-write everything in COBOL. But please don't think that the current generation of programming languages is the end all and be all. I will make a possible exception in favor of Ada, but who uses Ada?

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Paris Hilton

Conan vs COBOL

The next "Red Sonia."

So, how many people who know some COBOL are going to throw in their application? I did COBOL in high school and college around the time of the Y2K threat. I still have some of my books from classes, and even bought some others along the years. Sadly, I even dust off my COBOL skills once in a while by firing up RM*COSTAR in CrossPC on my Amiga.

That's a true story, by the way. But closer to reality, I know at least a couple of people who have done COBOL professionally recently. One of them worked for ACS, which I believe is a big enough company to do work for the SoC.

Paris, dusting off her skills just in case they're ever needed.

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Happy

Even still...

...that's much much better than SAP.

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@Bronek Kozicki

Well, in this case, it appears there are no guys maintaining the system at present.

"the only ones who can make the changes - part time retired COBOL programmers - were among 10,000 employees laid off as part of the cuts."

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Insane pricing gotchas

Many years ago, a customer wanted us to include a new feature in our software. We had plenty of other things to work on that were higher priority, so we put him off. But he was persistent, insistent and consistent in his request. Finally our company owner quoted him a price just to shut him up.

"Forty thousand dollars...that's the fee for your custom feature request."

(Ha! That'll keep him quiet!)

The customer pulled out his corporate check ledger and wrote out a check on the spot.

"Guys? You know that feature we've been back-burnering for the last year, for that one customer who kept asking? The one that's less important than anything else we're doing? Guess what..."

Maybe IBM figured they could avoid the job if they quoted a high enough price?

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Cobol

Back in 1998 I was at college and the C teacher had a breakdown just as we were about to start the 2nd year. So after a fun year of Pascal with a view to C++ in year 2 it was announced we had to learn COBOL instead.

It was the dullest year of my life. Anyway, if a program is written well enough to run for 30 years then credit where credit is due. The problem is that nobody was forward thinking enough to suggest a change before they realised it was too late.

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(Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

Re: How much!?

Umm, yes. A big slip of the keyboard / brain here. Correct figure is 30 mil.

Drew

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IT Angle

Only if you really, really. really want the job

This is a standard ploy for IT (well, not only IT) firms who don't want the specific contact but still want to get future pork, er, contracts from an existing customer.

You give a ridiculously high figure to undertake the project to effectively tell the customer that it's an expen$ive favour .

If you get the contract, well, you're in the money (unless you are totally incompetent). If you don't get the contract, then you at least "showed interest".

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Not THAT difficult to "adjust" payroll

Let's see. Write a "temporary" program that just spits out checks for the minimum wage and hold the "real" payroll stopped for a while. It seems pretty simple to me:

printf ("Your weekly paycheck is: %5.2f dollars\n", 6.55 * hours);

Modifications for minimum wage at a fee.

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GF
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Term debug?

I believe Admiral Hopper also coined the term "debugging" and "bug" in the late 1940s in relation to computing.

She does get around, doesn't she...

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What's COBOL got to do with it?

I've been paid by computerised systems for decades now, and all of them were configured to allow pay changes up and down. Has California had to reprogram their kit every year for annual pay rises?

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Paris Hilton

Hmm... maybe theres gold in them thar hills...

Well, I speak COBOL, being over 50... In fact, I think I invented recursive COBOL, where a program can actually call itself with new variables, and then return up the stack to to caller.

But, would I want to work for an administration that is likely to cut my contract fees if I made it work? Not so sure...

Paris, because I'm sure she could do herself recursively....

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Anonymous Coward

COBOL- is not the only issue

The pioneering languages pre-1990's are still strong and will remain so until someone chooses to not support some particular hardware platform change, that's the reality of it.

I was in the UK prior to Y2K and ASM/BAL at insurance firms was all the talk about how to find enough bodies to fix it back then. I certainly don't think that after Y2K they decided to toss MORE money at it for rewriting to 'modern' languages. Corporations don't think that way so long as it works they would rather buy faster hardware. There are entire sets of software and businesses that do nothing but link legacy systems to modern systems creating more user friendly interfaces with virtual teletype terminal services running underneath.

How many so-called modern languages along with their many variants and plug-ins and extensions will be viable 5 or 10 years out? Will the tools still be available to support them? The platform transferable to new hardware? This is why so many go to packaged systems where that problem is someone else's problem.

Anyone want to update (not rewrite) a ColdFusion or Delphi website?

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At least it's not C

At least it's not C, just imagine things like integer overflows in a payroll system. Or imagine a buffer overflow because of a to long name.

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Ian

2 digits?

COBOL wasnt the problem, it was the cost of memory when the systems were written, 2 digits for the year saved you some space and when you had several million dates in your db it added up. When I were a lad working on Honeywell Bull DMIV systems we stored dates as numbers, formatted YYMMDD and used simple greater than, less than tests with home rolled date routines for anything clever. Yes, I am grey and bearded.

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Happy

COBOL vs. Terminator

Actually, as every geek who ever freeze-framed the first movie on video has known ever since the '80s, the T-101 was programmed in 6502 assembler[*]... none of that poncy HLL stuff for a low-down dirty killing machine like that!

[*] - and had several alternative possibilities for how to respond to that janitor beyond "Fuck you, asshole"....

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Dead Vulture

So say we all

All that and no mention of technology debt?

Setting aside the fact I'd eat a bullet before writing another line of COBOL code, the reason to get rid of it is really because stuff like this keeps happening, and it will keep getting worse and more expensive every time it does.

Pay someone to make something you can control/maintain/upgrade easily now, or spend much more than that maintaining it over the next decade or two.

And... For me, and for the children, please, kill COBOL now. For a brighter tomorrow.

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