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February 24, 2011

COBOL-IT returns choice to migrating sites

In 2007 Micro Focus bought up its biggest rival in the COBOL and development tool market, Acucorp. Acu, as its fans call it, had a bright technical future and a raft of fans who didn't like the pricing Micro Focus was accustomed to charging for runtime users. For a 3000 customer who was paying nothing at all for runtime licenses, thanks to HP and COBOL II, Micro Focus was a big leap in pricing. The $40.7 million purchase gave Micro Focus license to set pricing as well as the future of AcuCOBOL.

So it's easy to imagine how migration for a 3000 site looked more expensive in 2007, once Micro Focus eliminated the Acu choice for COBOL. More than 80 percent of the 3000 community uses some kind of COBOL. The compiler on a target platform is important to the homegrown app customers who do their own development. About 10 days ago, Speedware announced a fresh choice for COBOL on migration platforms, COBOL-IT.

Although that product name is unfamiliar to 3000 sites, the technology leadership is pretty well known. COBOL-IT is run by former Acucorp managers. They've taken the OpenCOBOL source code, which is controlled by the General Public License like most open source tools, and applied some nifty extensions to the compiler. GPL terms mean that the COBOL-IT work has to be made available to OpenCOBOL users. COBOL-IT, which has been integrated into Speedware's AMXW solution, is a commercial open source solution. That means that it's the support and the ongoing improvements you license, not the software. COBOL-IT is a free download, according to Speedware's marketing director Chris Koppe.

Even though Speedware's president Andy Kulatowski has said "COBOL-IT is to COBOL what Red Hat is to Linux," Koppe explained that means that the compiler-development suite is crafted like Red Hat: open with its own code, but sold as a distro already compiled and with a support network in place. Speedware is part of that network in North America as of this month.

Koppe added that COBOL-IT "makes it nice that are now choices again" for COBOLs. Fujitsu's NetCOBOL also shuns runtime fees, just like COBOL II did. But in Speedware's view, Fujitsu isn't investing in future developments with the language. Enhance COBOL for what reason? Integration with newer technologies is high among the answers, such as "interoperability with more mainstream features like automating testing and test coverage," as well as XML interfaces.

Back when the HP exit announcement was still ringing in customer ears, Acucorp was selling its AcuCOBOL with a promise to understand the MPE/iX intrinsics better than anything but COBOL II. That issue is not as important by now, close to 10 years since HP's exit decree. Speedware's AMXW, a common tool partnered with COBOL-IT, "takes care of the intrinsics, to make your COBOL code that you're moving ANSI-compatible."

The HP 3000 is not the only market where Speedware will offer COBOL-IT; there's opportunity in the mainframe space, IBM's AS400 (Series i) and even Windows and HP-UX. All of those choices are proprietary tech solutions with vendor lock-in -- something Koppe said lots of customers never want to endure again. COBOL-IT, he added, is also built to make it easy to move from another COBOL compiler.

Micro Focus understands how important factors like price and common architectures have become. While Fujitsu's product was priced lower than the Micro Focus software on the stock price list, Koppe said discounting has become common for Micro Focus to win customers. What's more, the development environment at Micro Focus is now based on the Eclipse toolset -- something that COBOL-IT has used from the ground up.

06:37 PM in Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink

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