A jump start into COBOL
I know why you are reading about this book. Its a job thing, right? I thought so. You see, there are no COBOL hobbyists. I dont really know why that is so--all the other languages have hobbyists. But not COBOL. COBOL programmers have their sleeves rolled up and are doing a days work.
This is a beginners COBOL book, and I have had some very nice responses from folks that are using it to learn COBOL for the first time. There is another group that is using it--those that havent worked in COBOL for some years and want a quick refresher course. I have gotten some nice comments from folks in both of these categories. I have been told that it has helped some people achieve their goals. (Insert picture of author dragging a big toe in the dust and saying, "Aw shucks".)
An important note about the history of COBOL. It is not true that an extra letter was once added so COBOL would no longer be a four letter word. The letter B has always been in the name.
386 Pages of COBOL. COBOL for Dummies is based on ANSI 85 standard COBOL. Although compilers vary a bit, this is the dialect of COBOL compatible with all current compilers. COBOL is like ice cream: it comes in lots of flavors. Some of it has nutty stuff in it, and some of it is real hard. And it doesn't seem to have a "best if used by" date. COBOL has been around for a lot of years and every maker of a COBOL compiler has, for reasons of their own, added something special here and there. Sometimes the customization is necessary, sometimes it's useful, sometimes it's cute, and sometimes it's just, like, well, there.
By the way, about the ANSI 85 COBOL standard. That's 1985 AD, not BC. COBOL has been around a long time, but not quite that long. However, there is an obscure note attributed to Pretonius the Arbitor that has been translated to, "Octavia, punch this up on some papyrus and have a runner take it to Cobilius Compilius." It has also been said that Moses first brought COBOL down from the mountain engraved on clay tablets, but we know this is not true because it was a COBOL program that output the tablets.
The CD contains a bunch of COBOL compilers. There are demo versions of Acucobol for Windows 3.1, 95, and NT. There is a set of Deskware COBOL interpreters from Deskware for AIX, Linux, SunOS, Solaris, and Windows 95/NT. The complete Fujitsu development environment for Windows 3.1, 95, and NT as well as for HP-UX and Solaris. There is a demo version of the MicroFocus NetExpress COBOL development environment The CD also contains printable and viewable syntax of the COBOL verbs, and even a bonus chapter not found in the book (its on the basics of formatting and printing reports).
One of my favorite parts of the book is the step-by-step procedures for coding the different types of COBOL input and output--sequential, relative, indexed, and sort/merge files. No longer do you have to find a program that has 'similar' I/O and copy the code and hope it works in your program too. Of course, you can still copy stuff--but now you can use the step-by-step procedure to figure out exactly what you just stole.
There is a chapter dedicated to the millennium problem as it occurs in COBOL programs. You can find out about the year 2000 thing (also known as Y2K to those who cannot live without acronyms). You can find out what it looks like and how to fix it.
You will hear COBOL being referred to as COBOL II, or COBOL 2, or COBOL two, or COBOL too. This is just another name for COBOL 85. The way this happened, you see, is that everybody was using COBOL 74 and the computer companies were just calling it COBOL. When these companies came out with a COBOL compiler for the new 85 standard they gave it the marketing name of COBOL II. The name stuck. Maybe they should have called it COBOL two-digit-year-millennium-problem.