COBOL programming language

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The name COBOL is an acronym for Common Business Oriented Language.

COBOL was initially created in 1959 by The Short Range Committee, one of three committees defined at a meeting held at the Pentagon in May 1959, organized by Charles Phillips of the US Department of Defense. The Short Range Committee was formed to recommend at short range approach to a common businees language. It was made up of members representing 6 computer manufacturers and 3 government agencies. In particular, the six computer manufacturers were Burroughs, IBM, Minneapolis-Honeywell, RCA, Sperry Rand, and Sylvania Electric Products. The three government agencies were the US Air Force, the David Taylor Model Basin, and the National Bureau of Standards. This committee was chaired by a member of NBS. (An Intermediate-Range Committee and a Long-Range Committee were defined at the Pentagon meeting as well. While the Intermediate Range Committeee was formed, it was never operational. The Long-Range Committee was never formed.) In the end a sub-committee of the Short Range Committee developed the specifications of the COBOL language. This sub-committee was made up of six individuals:

This subcommitee completed the specifications for COBOL as the year of 1959 came to an end. These were approved by the full Short Range Committee. From there, they were approved by the Executive Commitee in January 1960, and sent to the government printing office, which edited and printed these specifications as Cobol 60. COBOL was developed within a six month period, and yet is still in use over 40 years later.

COBOL, while posessing excellent self-documenting capabilities and useful data types, has serious flaws by the standards of newer programming languages - notably verbose syntax and lack of support for local variables, recursion, dynamic memory allocation, structured programming, object-oriented programming, and other programming techniques. Conseqently, little new code is being written in COBOL.

Many COBOL programs are still in use in major commercial enterprises, notably financial institutions. The use of serial decimal arithmetic in its design happened to make programs designed without provision for the advent of the 2000's particularly vulnerable to failure with the Millennium Bug (it should be pointed out that COBOL's serial decimal arithmetic avoided many other problems that can occur with the naive use of floating-point arithmetic for financial calculations). Hence, many elderly COBOL programmers enjoyed several years of highly-paid work, often to fix the problems in systems they designed decades before.

Source: J.E. Sammet. "The Early History of Cobol." In History of Programming Languages, edited by R.L. Wexelblat. New York: ACM Monograph Series,1981.----


For other vintage programming languages see


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