Having programmed in COBOL, I can say its not so bad as people think it is – and it remains a powerful force in the business world. Thousands of lines of COBOL are being used every day. (Of course, no one ever says thousands of lines of COBOL are being developed every day, but that’s another kettle of fish….)
Having also worked in RPG, and in APL (slightly), I can say without reservation that COBOL is not so bad. The worst that people can say is that it takes 300 pages to write a program that C can do in one line – and they’re right. Oh, well – can’t win ’em all eh?
Turns out that back in September, Fujitsu updated their three COBOL compilers: one for .Net, one for Windows, and one for UNIX (including Solaris Sparc!). It also turns out that they have released (again) a previous version for personal educational use – and at no cost! I caught wind of this via esotechnica. It may well be that Fujitsu has provided the easiest way to get started in COBOL anywhere.
If I’d’ve had Fujitsu COBOL on Microsoft Windows XP (for instance) back during my COBOL class days, they’d probably have called it cheating (heh!).
If you want to stay with open source projects, you could always use tinyCOBOL, OpenCOBOL, or GNU COBOL… although I think GNU COBOL is dead (the project was to create a COBOL compiler front-end for GCC). TinyCOBOL and OpenCOBOL appear to be quite active (I actually packaged the tinyCOBOL RPMs for a while).
Anybody ever use COBOL for system administration? I doubt it – but who am I to say? Maybe that important network manager is written in COBOL and we just don’t know it…