Sign In

Communications of the ACM

ACM Careers

COBOL Turns 60: Why It Will Outlive Us All

business computer, illustration

In computing's early years, the only languages were machine and assembler. 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 to Mary Hawes, a Burroughs Corp. programmer. 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.

Hawes talked Grace Hopper and others into creating a vendor-neutral interoperable computer language. Hopper suggested they approach the U.S. Department of Defense for funding and as a potential customer for the unnamed language. 

Business IT experts agreed, and in May 1959, 41 computer users and manufacturers met at the Pentagon. There, they formed the Short Range Committee of the Conference on Data Systems Languages (CODASYL).

In 2016, the Government Accountability Office reported the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Social Security Administration, to name just three, were still using COBOL. According to a COBOL consulting company, COBOL Cowboys, 200 billion lines of COBOL code are still in use today and 90% of Fortune 500 companies still having COBOL code keeping the lights on. And, if you've received cash out of an ATM recently, it's almost certain COBOL was running behind the scenes.

From ZDNet
View Full Article


No entries found