Offshoring company looks to make programmers obsolete

One of India's biggest offshoring players has launched software that converts legacy applications to modern programming...

One of India's biggest offshoring players has launched software that converts legacy applications to modern programming languages.

Mahindra British Telecom (MBT) said the software almost completely automates the process of converting legacy applications written in languages such as Cobol, Pascal, Delphi and Smalltalk to modern languages such as C, C++ and Java.

The company is a joint venture between Indian technology group Mahindra & Mahindra and BT Group. It has development centres in the UK and India and specialises in applications outsourcing and offshoring for the telecoms industry.

Such a system would help many companies still lumbered with software from the 1970s and 1980s, which has to be maintained by specialised staff familiar with the legacy systems. MBT cited Gartner Group figures estimating that 70% of all business and commercial applications are based on Cobol.

MBT claims its automated system reduces the human factor of converting legacy code by 90% and ensures "zero-error" quality. This is possible because any programming language can be abstracted to a few fundamental principles, MBT said.

The company said it carried out an automated conversion for a Scandinavian telco in six months, for a project that ordinarily would have taken 75 man-years. The automated conversion took less than a day, with the rest of the time devoted to tweaks by a small team of 10 specialists, MBT said.

In theory automated conversion is feasible, but in practical terms the code produced is so bloated as to be useless, according to John Harvey, lecturer in computing science at the University of East Anglia.

"This type of technology has been around for years, and it is only any good if, for example, the Java produced is quick and usable," Harvey said. "It could be unstructured garbage which is impossible to maintain and slow."

The system is designed to convert one procedural language to another, for example Cobol to C - or one object-oriented language to another - for example Delphi to C++. Converting from one paradigm to the other can only be semi-automated, MBT said.

MBT said the converter had completed initial trials but didn't give a launch date.

Laura Berrill writes for Techworld

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