COBOL is fifty years old today

The computer language that caused people to rack their brains and reach for their tranquilizers is 50 years old today.

COBOL stands for Common Business Oriented Language and despite its reputation, wasn’t designed by sadists to inflict pain on programmers. Ihe name was agreed, according to Micro Focus, during a meeting of the Short Range Committee on 18 September 1959.

Micro Focus said it surveyed a number of people earlier this year and found only 18 percent had ever heard of COBOL. Yet there are an estimated 200 billion lines of COBOL in existence and hundreds more are created every day.

According to Mike Gilpin, an analyst at Forrester Research, a staggering 32 percent of enterprises still use COBOL for development or maintenance. “COBOL is one of the few languages written in the last 50 years that’s readable and understandable,” he said. “Modern programming languages are ridiculously hard to understand.”

Here’s Hello World in COBOLese:

          DISPLAY ‘Hello, world’.
          STOP RUN.

Micro Focus has set up a site to commemorate COBOL. The picture above shows Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (1906-1992), a great influence in the early days of computing, with some of her COBOL compiler team for the Univac II.