Micro Focus and Microsoft strike Cobol deal

Getting old or new Cobol applications to run in Microsoft's .net development environment should become a more realistic option...

Getting old or new Cobol applications to run in Microsoft's .net development environment should become a more realistic option now that the leading Cobol tools vendor has signed up for Microsoft's Visual Studio .net integration partner program.

Micro Focus will extend its Net Express tool, which allows Cobol developers to write applications for the Windows, Linux and Unix operating systems, to Microsoft's .net environment.

"Micro Focus Cobol will become a first-class citizen in the .net framework, in the way that C# or Visual Basic might be," said Micro Focus chief executive officer Tony Hill.

Hill said his company is making a "significant investment", which he declined to specify, because customers "are telling us that they see .net as part of their future."

John Billman, product manager at computer store Net Express, said Micro Focus had to adapt its Cobol compiler to translate Cobol code into the Microsoft Intermediate Language that can be executed by the .net framework's Common Language Runtime.

That effort will have two important consequences for developers. Users should be able to move all of their business logic written in Cobol and significant portions of their other Cobol code directly to the .net environment without the need to rewrite the code, so long as they have not targeted any special or proprietary application programming interfaces.

Users will also gain access to the .net framework's many new class libraries, including the Windows and Web forms that can be used to create user interfaces, said Dan Hay, a lead product manager in Microsoft's Visual Studio enterprise tools division.

Accordingly, users working inside Microsoft's Visual Studio .net tool will be able to create an application project using Micro Focus Cobol or work with existing legacy code, Hay said.

An early-adopter program for .net support in Net Express will start in December. The final version of the tool, which will sell for US$3,700 per seat, is due next June.

Hay said Microsoft will likely work out an arrangement whereby Micro Focus can sell Visual Studio to its customers along with the Net Express product.

The Micro Focus product will not be the first tool targeting Cobol developers. Earlier this year, Fujitsu Software released its NetCobol for .Net tool, which also compiles Cobol code to run on Windows.

But Hay said Micro Focus supports a broader range of platforms and has a larger installed base than Fujitsu.

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