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Absolutely. In many cases, universities can't afford their own IBM mainframe environment to allow students to learn how to use it. Many folks, such as myself, have to have on-the-job training in order to learn COBOL and how to use the IBM mainframe itself.

OpenCOBOL is available to learn the language. I do not know it, just checked macports and yes it is there.

Description: OpenCOBOL is an open-source COBOL compiler. Homepage: http://www.opencobol.org/

Library Dependencies: gmp, libtool, db44, ncurses, libgnugetopt, libiconv, gettext, mpfr Platforms: darwin License: GPL-2+ Maintainers: egall@gwmail.gwu.edu, openmaintainer@macports.org

Is that environment something that could be virtualized, were it not for intellectual property reasons?

Almost seems to be more of a vendor lock-in issue than an a mere 'old and scarce platform' issue, albeit that's significant also.

There's already an emulator called Hercules, but you need a license from IBM to run the operating system all of this runs on top of.

Maybe telling IBM about your interest would lead to them licence it free to emulators. They wouldn't like their platform to die because nobody knows how to use it.

you'd think that wouldn't you , instead they've sued them in the past http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2010/04/ibm-br...

That's because they've been a bit naughty though, not because of mere corporate evil. Quoting the article you linked:


A well-designed System Z emulator that allows users to migrate their own mainframe applications to commodity hardware would obviously pose a serious threat to IBM's mainframe business, but IBM's software licensing terms have historically prevented such a threat from materializing.


In many ways, the project arguably benefits IBM by encouraging interest in the mainframe platform. [...] What brought about IBM's change in perspective was an unexpected effort by the TurboHercules company to commercialize the project in some unusual ways.

TurboHercules came up with a bizarre method to circumvent the licensing restrictions and monetize the emulator. IBM allows customers to transfer the operating system license to another machine in the event that their mainframe suffers an outage. Depending on how you choose to interpret that part of the license, it could make it legally permissible to use IBM's mainframe operating system with Hercules in some cases.

Exploiting that loophole in the license, TurboHercules promotes the Hercules emulator as a "disaster recovery" solution that allows mainframe users to continue running their mainframe software on regular PC hardware when their mainframe is inoperable or experiencing technical problems. This has apparently opened up a market for commercial Hercules support with a modest number of potential customers, such as government entities that are required to have redundant failover systems for emergencies, but can't afford to buy a whole additional mainframe.


Sure naughty or not naughty though, having IBM be actively hostile to the only cheap way to get access to a mainframe like environment is disasterous for their skill pool.

So if they don't like herculeas' efforts they should've brought out their own, or come to some kind of arrangement with them.

Interesting tidbit: I'm currently replacing a product that IBM refuses to licenses any longer. The company I work for would have gladly gone on paying $2MM a year in licensing fees, but IBM is literally refusing to take their money. They offer no replacement either.

Even working for a company that had mainframes, getting access to do any kind of learning was very difficult.

They rarely have dedicated training systems given the cost of running them, and trying to find information from IBM was an excercise in frustration.

Personally I think that is where IBM made a huge mistake. Lack of low cost training systems has starved their ecosystem of new coders.

There have been versions of COBOL for PCs since the pre-Windows DOS era. Not free, but neither was anything else in those days. Unix wasn't free either, neither was most unix software.

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