PERCobol whips COBOL into shape for budget-minded enterprises

LegacyJ's PERCobol 2.5 offers low-cost COBOL-to-Java code conversion

LegacyJ'S PERCobol 2.5 is a low-cost tool that's best suited for companies with small and midsize conversion projects. If you're looking to reinvigorate portions of your COBOL resources without imposing a high price tag, PERCobol could be the answer.

Note: For a review of a rival product, see "Net Express Helps Quicken Time to Market for Development Teams."

TEXTBOX: TEXTBOX_HEAD: The Bottom Line

PERCobol 2.5 preview

Business Case

Small and midsize organizations without the need for high-end bells and whistles will appreciate PERCobol's low cost and flexibility. The product allows ongoing programming in COBOL, with deployment benefits in Java.

Technology Case

PERCobol can run on a wide variety of platforms for development and supports interactive transactional systems, such as CICS. The solution offers a proprietary language for Java-enabling COBOL code.

Pros

  • Good platform availability
  • Low price
  • Multithreading support

Cons

  • No Enterprise JavaBeans or J2EE support
  • Limited documentation

Cost

PC: ,250 per developer; midrange: ,500 per developer; mainframe: from 4,000 to 2,000

Platforms

Windows NT 4.0/2000, Solaris, Linux, HP-UX, AIX, OS/400, OS/2, OS/390, SCO UnixWare

LegacyJ, Pleasanton, Calif.; (925) 467-1598:END_TEXTBOX

PERCobol was confined to a score of Good largely because it's not J2EE compliant, does not support Enterprise JavaBeans, and, although it supports CGI scripting language, it does not offer the ISAPI (Internet Server API) and NSAPI (Netscape Server API) Web server optimization found in products such as Net Express. But in our tests, PERCobol worked just as advertised: quickly and accurately. I had no trouble transporting existing code or developing test applications, applets, or standard JavaBeans from scratch. For some companies, that may be good enough.

The product delivers a graphical development IDE (integrated development environment), Microedge's Visual SlickEdit, along with a compiler and runtimes to convert, compile, debug, and deploy COBOL applications. (For nongraphical systems, there's also a command-line interface.) Your applications can be either PERCobol applications that allow Java to embed directly into existing COBOL or Java applets for client- and server-side use.

PERCobol works by analyzing and dissecting your original COBOL code to recreate the same program in Java, producing multiple source and class files of equivalent functionality. The remaining COBOL program is then "wrapped" in Java, encapsulating the initialization routines to run as either an application or applet.

Deploying PERCobol applications means distributing the compiled class files, along with Java System and Foundation class libraries and a PERCobol runtime library that provides additional functionality for Java-enabling your COBOL code.

Moreover, PERCobol comes with its own programming language, which comprises a set of easy-to-grasp constructs that extend the capabilities of standard COBOL so it can interface with Java. PERCobol ships with a comprehensive set of reference manuals (although it could have used a tutorial or two to help developers get their feet wet).

In addition to generating JavaBeans, PERCobol allows you to embed Java code and JavaBeans directly into COBOL. A handy utility automates the analysis and importing of existing JavaBeans, streamlining the process considerably. Other utilities include a handy make file feature for quickly rebuilding and compiling outdated file dependencies and a development file server to facilitate testing across network filesystems.

PERCobol can be used on a variety of development platforms, including Windows, Linux, and Solaris. If you're looking to build and deploy applications on different platforms, you face an additional 10 percent fee.

PERCobol is easy to use, too. In our tests, the IDE interface was a snap to navigate. We were productive right off the bat, thanks to PERCobol's color-coded editors, split windows, and features for editing, compiling, debugging, and executing programs. On the other hand, some features were missing, such as a basic word wrap and the ability to jump to a line of code from a compilation error -- a feature that can be found in almost every other mainstream IDE.

As for debugging, PERCobol offers a basic graphical debugger that, unfortunately, works only on COBOL. That means you have to debug your Java code with a separate utility. Still, the product furnishes the usual array of helpful tools, such as break/watchpoints and variable, memory, and thread views.

Although it's clearly a lower-end tool, PERCobol can help you improve the portability of your applications. To that end, there's also support for IBM's MQSeries messaging, as well as interactive transactional subsystems, such as CICS mainframe query system.

(Note: The version of PERCobol we tested was missing features that, according to LegacyJ, will let text-based COBOL programs incorporate graphical elements without necessitating major code rewrites. LegacyJ has indicated that these features will be included in the final release, expected September 1.)

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This story, "PERCobol whips COBOL into shape for budget-minded enterprises" was originally published by InfoWorld.