IT Horror Story: A World Without COBOL


With Halloween just around the corner, a real-life horror story is all around us, just waiting to be unleashed. We’re referring to our widespread dependence on COBOL, one of our oldest programming languages. Because it was designed to ensure longevity for enterprise applications, COBOL still runs some of the world's most basic and critical applications, but it has been increasingly dismissed as an over-the-hill programming language that today's developers don't want to work with. That presents the possibility that a severe shortage of COBOL programmers could contribute to a doomsday scenario in which many of the critical services we depend on are unavailable. It's the specter of such a disaster that motivated software-maker Micro Focus to develop a visual COBOL tool that lets companies run their COBOL applications on .Net, Java Virtual Machine and the cloud. "COBOL is the most prominent and reliable programming language, designed for today's mission-critical business applications," said Ed Airey, Micro Focus' product manager for COBOL. Here's a look at 12 applications that depend on COBOL—and what might happen in a widespread COBOL crash.

IT Horror Story: A World Without COBOL

Bank ATMs
A failure of COBOL would block access to savings and checking accounts and leave millions cash-less.

IT Horror Story: A World Without COBOL
Tony has been writing about technology and business for nearly 20 years and currently freelances from his home in the San Francisco Bay Area. Having spent the dot-com boom and bust years in Silicon Valley, he's had a front-row seat for the evolution of the technologies that have been the foundation of IT-powered business—from the growth of client/server computing, through the birth of the commercial Internet, to the emergence of cloud computing and social media. He has been a regular contributor to CIO Insight and Baseline Magazine since 2007, and he posts frequently on CIO Insight's BizTech 3.0 blog. A 1988 graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism, Tony spends his spare time relaxing with his wife, playing with his two sons, tinkering around his home in Albany, Calif., and, when time allows, playing saxophone and traveling. His somewhat infrequent Twitter posts can be found at

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