the Hidden Realities of Computer Industry in Japan Japanese

6.6 COBOL vs. Database

Until the early 1990s, COBOL was one of the most popular languages for automating clerical work. Most computer engineers used to choose COBOL when creating software programs. This would be natural since most programs were made for particular clerical purposes these days.

There are some similar basic functions that are common to every clerical program, including such functions as data retrieval or output, and addition or deletion, etc. Although there are a variety of data items needed for a unit rate, delivery date, quantity, discount rate, personnel, customer, and payment method, you can roughly categorize these different items into the simple book keeping process. In short, each of these items can be handled similarly.

Each above function consists of routine tasks. Routine tasks can be easily automated for a computer.

I've learned from someone that a COBOL programming is a piece of cake because all COBOL-based programs have a lot in common.

This fact suggests that a clerical program should not be written only for a particular task, but should be made for general purposes that can cover entire clerical processes, so that once you teach necessary procedures to your computer, you can use it any time for any clerical task. Programmers would not need to learn the procedure of creating each program. Note that the concept of "database" was born under these circumstances. It may lack logical explanation but would be enough to show the background of database software.

The president of some database house once told me about his efforts when he was trying to get the order of a clerical program development.

He said, "we can create a program within a very short period of time. It might be several times shorter than that of other vendors who use COBOL. It would be possible for us to make simple one while talking to a customer." Then, what a shame, he concluded, "The most difficult thing is to know the timing of a delivery."

It is an absolute fact that a development period has been significantly reduced. The program development that had taken several months could be completed in a few days today. That's why there had been no reason to use COBOL since it doesn't pay off any more. "Handmade" means nothing in the computer industries. Nothing is more important than "quickness", "cheapness", and "reliableness."

Notice that a database has significantly contributed to a program's reliability. Until now, programmers have made a program by writing each process line by line. The longer the length of the program is, the more mistakes the programmers would commit. This cannot be helped. On the other hand, if you use a database language, you can code the same procedures in far briefer format. Briefness will help you reduce mistakes and this will also be helpful to increase reliability.

In addition, database software is provided with most of the features required for performing clerical tasks and is also ready for performing difficult tasks that COBOL programmers would give up.

Any way, COBOL and databases cannot be seen equally any more. With a rapid advancement of the computer, automation has been adopted for computer programming, thereby obsoleting the COBOL language. It would be a natural consequence and would never be turned over in the future.

Under these circumstances, lots of COBOL programmers have been abandoned. This would explain the reason that we often find articles in some recruit magazines about COBOL programmers who turned over a new leaf as C programmers.

Copyright 1996, 1999 Hirofumi Fujiwara. Translated by H.K.
No reproduction or republication without written permission.

the Hidden Realities of Computer Industry in Japan Japanese