GCN Tech Blog

By GCN Staff

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Habla Cobol? Tale of USPS upgrade finds an international audience

The Web sometimes works in mysterious ways.

On July 10, GCN posted an article by Senior Technology Editor Rutrell Yasin, “USPS goes open-source with tracking system,” about how the U.S. Postal Service was upgrading its Product Tracking System to a Linux environment. It drew a fair number of GCN readers, as you might expect, whether they were postal employees, contractors or any number of people interested in open-source software.

But, curiously, it also drew a huge audience — thousand of readers — from Spain. Why so many readers there were interested in a USPS upgrade might be something of a mystery, but the how was easy to explain. The story was posted on www.meneame.net, a Spanish, Digg-like participatory news site where subscribers post stories, vote on their viability — giving each entry a karma rating — and then comment con gusto.

What were they saying? The site is in Spanish, but with an assist from Google Translate, we got a rough idea, though only a rough one. The exercise was as much a lesson in the limits of computerized translation as anything (the link above is to the translated page).

Aside from a reference to Kevin Costner and “The Postman” and some heated, apparently ongoing debates about karma ratings, the readers mostly wanted to talk about Cobol and Linux. GCN’s story explained how USPS was using Micro Focus’ Compiler for Linux to move Cobol code to the Linux portion of the mainframe without rewriting the source code.

Several contributors touted the flexibility and affordability of Linux, while others seemed to think moving to Linux was a bad idea. A few made disparaging remarks about Cobol, drawing a charge from one writer of: “Heretics! Signed, Cobolera Liberation Front.”

And one writer remarked on the longevity of Cobol, which turns 50 this year, by saying: “Operating systems go.… Cobol remains.” That’s a fact of life for many network administrators, no matter what language they speak.

Some issues of computing remain universal.

Posted by Kevin McCaney on Jul 16, 2009 at 9:39 AM


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