TITLE: BASIC and COBOL Cross My Path AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: June 13, 2007 4:05 PM DESC: ----- BODY: I don't run into Basic and Cobol all that often these days, but lately they seem to pop up all over. Once recently I even ran into them together in an article by Tim Bray on trends in programming language publishing:
Are there any here that might go away? The only one that feels threatened at all is VB, wounded perhaps fatally in the ungraceful transition to .NET. I suppose it's unlikely that many people would pick VB for significant new applications. Perhaps it's the closest to being this millennium's COBOL; still being used a whole lot, but not creatively.
Those are harsh words, but I suppose it's true that Cobol is no longer used "creatively". But we still receive huge call for Cobol instruction from industry, both companies that typically recruit our students and companies in the larger region -- Minneapolis, Kansas City, etc. -- who have learned that we have a Cobol course on the books. Even with industry involvement, there is effectively no student demand for the course. Whether VB is traveling the same path, I don't know. Right now, there is still decent demand for VB from students and industry. Yesterday, I ran into both languages again, in a cool way... A reader and former student pointed out that I had "hit the big leagues" when my recent post on Alan Kay started scoring points at programming.reddit.com. When I went there for a vanity stroke, I ran into something even better, a Sudoku solver written in Cobol! Programmers are a rare and wonderful breed. Thanks to Bill Price for sharing it with us. [1] While looking for a Cobol compiler for my Intel Mac [2], I ran instead into Chipmunk Basic, "an old-fashioned Basic interpreter" for Mac OS. This brings back great memories, especially in light of my upcoming 25th high school reunion. (I learned Basic as a junior, in the fall of 1980.) Chipmunk Basic doesn't seem to handle my old graphics-enabled programs, but it runs most of the programs my students wrote back in the early 1990s. Nice. I've been considering a Basic-like language as a possible source language for my compiler students this fall. I first began having such thoughts when I read a special section on lightweight languages in a 2005 issue of Dr. Dobbs' Journal and found Tom Pitman's article The Return of Tiny Basic. Basic has certain limitations for teaching compilers, but it would be simple enough to tackle in full within a semester. It might also be nice for historical reasons, to expose today's students to something that opened the door to so many CS students for so many years. ---- [1] I spent a few minutes poking around Mr. Price's website. In some sort of cosmic coincidence, it seems that Mr. Price is took his undergraduate degree at the university where I teach (he's an Iowa native), and is an avid chessplayer -- not to mention a computer programmer! That's a lot of intersection with my life. [2] I couldn't find a binary for a Mac OS X Cobol, only sources for OpenCOBOL. Building this requires building some extension packages that don't compile without a bunch of tinkering, and I ran out of time. If anyone knows of a decent binary package somewhere, please drop me a line. -----