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AcuCOBOL's bench is a means to transition

COBOL-only 3000 sites have been working with the same set of tools for many years. HP closed its languages lab early in the previous decade, so Hewlett-Packard's brand-name source code managers and the like were last enhanced sometime late in the 1990s. That age doesn't matter very much to the strategy of homesteading. Suppliers such as Robelle have enhanced editors like Qedit in the interim.

There are options for improving COBOL development and managing application maintenance and creation. COBOL has many experts and advocates in the 3000 community. One of our favorites is Alan Yeo; his company ScreenJet created an interface between the 3000 and the development toolbench from Acucorp, AcuBench. Yeo has been a realist about the transition of AcuCOBOL toward a melding with Micro Focus COBOL. It's taken a long time so far -- AcuCOBOL hasn't achieved its melding in more than four years of plans and work on the project.

But the state of an AcuCOBOL-Micro Focus meld doesn't change one axiom: better COBOL project tools will help a 3000 site which is migrating. Micro Focus acquired AcuCOBOL's expertise and its customers in 2007, and first talked about a Project Meld in 2008.

"If you're COBOL shop and you're on the HP 3000," Yeo explained, "and you wanted to move to a very structured and complete environment -- where you've got a lot of development tools, debugging tools -- then the Micro Focus environment wouldn't be bad. But as of this minute, they haven't got anything that's as good as their AcuCOBOL GUI product."

Yeo was quick to praise this AcuBench IDE solution. It's software whose current data sheet looks minted from 2009, and states that it supports Windows environments as current as Vista. However, Yeo's ScreenJet software supplies a VPlus to ACUCOBOL-GT and AcuBench Conversion module.

This VPlus conversion tool kit extracts screen information from a VPlus formfile and delivers it as ready-made GUI screens to the AcuBench IDE (Integrated Development Environment), as though the screens had been created initially in that IDE.

A 3000 site moves to AcuBench and AcuCOBOL as part of a migration -- essentially a lift-and-shift project. The AcuCOBOL-GT compiler is engineered to adopt MPE/iX aspects such as COBOL II extensions. "That was the beauty of the AcuCOBOL stuff," Yeo said. "You could develop anywhere and run anywhere." The software outputs industry-standard COBOL, starting with COBOL code already driving HP 3000 applications.

Micro Focus has advanced software for development managing and team organization, some acquired from Borland (another company assimilated into the Micro Focus lineup.) As an example of the scope of some of these products, the AcuBench IDE offers drag and drop techniques to further enhance application screens, to employ additional GUI elements such as Radio Buttons, Check Boxes and List Boxes.

In contrast, a product such as Micro Focus Caliber includes components used to author applications, visualize both user cases and process flows, and simulate user interaction. These tools, which are next-generation software for most 3000-centric developers, can relate such visualizations to application requirements. A review module in Caliber is essential to letting business stakeholders discuss and collaborate on such visualizations.

Business stakeholder discussions can help bring IT to the boardroom table. Collaboration to create and improve applications feeds the value of an Application Management Portfolio, and APM makes apps shine as key assets.