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Ovid (2709)

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Stuff with the Perl Foundation. A couple of patches in the Perl core. A few CPAN modules. That about sums it up.

Journal of Ovid (2709)

Thursday May 30, 2002
02:50 PM

COBOLScript versus Perl

[ #5316 ]

Kind of an interesting fiasco. I checked my email yesterday only to find a ton of messages for the COBOLScript mailing list. It seems that the company in question apparently signed up everyone who had ever contacted to their mailing list. Most of the messages were for people wanting off the list.

So, how did I get on the list? When I first learned about COBOLScript, I checked their site and they had some sample applications. Since I used to be a COBOL programmer and I now do Web programming, it was a relatively easy task for me to analyze their code.

It's pitiful.

One thing that is relatively difficult to do with COBOL is dynamically manage text. It's simply not designed for that. Since the Web is primarily text, this is a pitiful mismatch between language and problem space. I sent them email (which I assume is how they got my address) about some of the problems with their applications. They never responded. They never fixed their online demos. Naturally, I felt that a more direct approach was called for, so I hacked their scripts. I sent them email, again, telling them the problem and how to fix it. After a while, they got around to fixing the online demo I was messing with, but didn't bother to fix any of their other online demos.

Since they signed me up to their mailing list without my permission, I went ahead and sent the list a long email detailing the hack and why COBOL is such a rotten choice for Web programming. Oddly, it appears that my email never made it to the list. In fact, it seems that the list is shut down.

Choice quotes from their faq (emphasis mine):

In the case of Perl in particular, the language designers openly touted the esotericism of the language with code obfuscation contests in their official Developer's Journal. Clearly, something here was wrong.

And later:

Your development teams will adapt quickly to CobolScript development without the prohibitive training expenses or effort required with languages like Java® or Perl.

As you can see, marketroids had fun writing this.

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  • I mentally translate "Easy to use without training" as meaning "we've made big buttons for the easy things and have made everything else impossible. Or at least well hidden." That means I snicker a lot at people who say, "Windows can be just as secure as Unix, if you know how to configure it properly."

  • So... what's COBOL like? I've tried skimming a book and tutorial or two on it, but somehow the syntax is too alien to me (not "Algol-like" as they used to say), and is sort of just washed over me. I just couldn't make sense of it.
    • COBOL was revolutionary for its time. If memory serves me correctly, it was an initiative, supported by the US military (though not a US military initiative, despite common misperception), to develop a common language. At the time different computers, if they had a high-level language, had a proprietary one. Several different computer manufacturers and government agencies collaborated on a two-step program (pun not intended) to create a common programming language for businesses. An interim language was