Some legacy system owners are suffering from license fee increases of 20% per year, and this is fueling renewed interest in modernization. In the past, there have been a number of vendors whose proprietary software product (or company) has been bought by a large firm whose clear intent is to keep raising the license fees until the last customer is driven away.

For a long time, COBOL was thought to be immune to this kind of price increase. After all, no company “owns” COBOL – it was invented by a committee of members representing 6 computer manufacturers and 3 US Government agencies, sponsored by the US Department of Defense. But from what we hear, customers are starting to experience these same kinds of price increases with COBOL. One particular customer was hit with a 38% price increase, we’re told, and we hear of 20% per year increases from more than one source.

There used to be many different COBOL vendors. First, all of the older hardware manufacturers provided a compiler: IBM, CDC, H-P, Burroughs, Univac, Honeywell, DEC, Wang, and others had their own versions that ran on their machines. Then there were the independent vendors: Realia offered a great compiler and CICS emulator, Ryan-MacFarlane had RM/COBOL, AccuCOBOL was available, and even Microsoft offered a COBOL compiler. Now, it seems all but one are gone, except for a couple of mainframe COBOL offerings.

We see companies offering “modernization to COBOL” for users of Software AG Natural, IDEAL, and other proprietary languages. But today, when you want to run COBOL on anything other than a mainframe, Micro Focus has the overwhelming market share. And their licenses are not free.

If you want to get away from paying hundreds of thousands for programming language and runtime licenses, or even millions… is it a good idea to switch to the COBOL market leader? Micro Focus makes a great product; but do be sure you fully understand the current and future software license cost, quite apart from the fact that almost all of the Baby-boomer COBOL programmers are ripe for retirement now.