Day 2, Steve Biondi stated at the outset, was the ‘how’ behind day 1’s ‘why’. Actually we had already learned a lot about the ‘how’ on Tuesday, but the second day’s sessions really filled in a lot of the gaps. For example, on day 1 we had learned you could migrate your legacy screens. On Wednesday we saw a bit more how. Talking to delegates reinforced my view from the day before that the developers and their managements are not dazzled by the lure of fitting their applications with state-of-the-art systems of engagement. That would be nice, but they have a much more fundamental problem in front of them long before that.

Companies have been under pressure to modernize for years. However, client server never killed the mainframe, PCs have never killed client server and the web has never killed the GUI thick client. All that legacy stuff is still out there and as long as those applications work for the businesses they serve – and their customers – the drive to modernize is just a background rumble. Not yet a crisis, but menacing, like a distant thunderstorm.

Yes, it would be nice to modernize, but not mainly because there are all kinds of new cutting edge technologies. That’s not the motivator. Strictly speaking the current systems do the job as well as they need to. The real impetus is that they are ‘running out of road.’ That road is not the metal boxes or even the operating systems. The number one problem is the looming (or actual) shortage of skills to keep these systems running, followed closely by a sense that it won’t be too many more years before really, finally, the old technology just won’t cope – that they just won’t be able to rely on backward compatibility and on emulating and patching their way onto new platforms.

So why have so many companies waited so long? Modernization has been talked about for 20 years at least (and I’d even say 30, because I can remember trying to sell it.) The simple answer is that neither the lure of new technology nor the menace of extinction – nor the two combined – has been enough to overcome the mind numbing costs involved and the impossible business disruption while staff were deployed on rewriting or whatever else was the chosen modernization route. Until you can overcome those obstacles many companies just can’t move.

For legacy platform COBOL shops, Micro Focus’s Visual COBOL might just be a ‘game changing’ solution. I hate to use the cliché, but I was impressed that only once did a presenter – from outside Micro Focus – use the expression over the two days, my theory being that frequency of the use of ‘disruptive technology’ and ‘game changing’ is inversely proportional to the truth. However, I’m convinced that Visual COBOL can transform the economics of a migration from legacy COBOL on legacy platforms. And if you’re attracted to the .NET world, Visual COBOL’s integration with Microsoft Azure can quickly deliver the benefits of Cloud, too.

Even without the promise of Cloud or an immediate new whizzy mobile front end, the compelling value proposition is that Visual COBOL gets you off the legacy platforms, lands you right in the new mainstream, and does it without kludges, emulators or fudges like converting to another language which has somehow been made to look like COBOL. Here’s the premise in a nutshell:

Visual COBOL takes in the COBOL you have, with little or no change to the source, and makes it executable on a Windows or Unix platform, as either a native or managed code application. Micro Focus’s mantras are: Visual COBL is a .NET language; Visual COBOL is a JVM language. You build and maintain your systems in Visual Studio or Eclipse. Programmers familiar with those environments will have no trouble getting on board with COBOL. It’s just another language living in the same community as most other modern languages. There are migration routes for your legacy mainframe screens (CICS, IMS) and legacy Micro Focus, RM and ACU screen technologies. If your target is .NET, you can use the Azure extension for VS like any other .NET language to deploy in the Cloud. Here and there, some bits are not 100% up to the level of a .NET denizen like C#, but they will be.

I’ve seen enough to believe it. I’m not sure Micro Focus are the only ones with capabilities like these, but I suspect no one else can do as much. I’ll be looking into that. Meanwhile, if you have any doubts, go download the trial from Micro Focus’s site and let me know.