Book Review
by Jim Moore, Technical Support Magazine, February, 2000

COBOL for OS/390 POWER PROGRAMMING with Complete Year 2000 Section
by David Shelby Kirk

I loved this book - it's a solid four stars!  I am recommending it to all of my associates and coding buddies who are programming in COBOL.  It contains a wealth of detailed information that clearly explains how to exploit the new features of modern COBOL dialects.  Plus, it contains excellent explanations of the basic processes of compiling and linking COBOL.  The sections on compiler and run-time options should be required reading for all commercial COBOL programmers.  I especially appreciate the section (7.4.2 on pages 316 to 318) that compares and contrasts the compiler options of OS/VS COBOL with COBOL/370 and COBOL II.  This and the other reference material contained in the book are sure to make it an invaluable addition to any COBOL programmer's toolkit.

David Shelby Kirk is a fine technical writer.  His book is loaded with examples that do an excellent job of augmenting the skills of experienced programmers.  This is not a book for beginners and the author states this early on.   I certainly learned a lot from reading this book.  I enjoyed David's "old-fashioned" technique of showing what Assembler instructions are generated by the COBOL compiler based upon how the COBOL verbs are coded (Section 3.5.3 - Pages 132 to 134 is a classic example of this).  Precious few COBOL programmers would even think to do this.  I find myself nodding in agreement with David 99 percent of the time.

My only pick is that there are a few small mis-statements in the book.  Not many and they appear to be more like oversights than errors.  As David mentions, COBOL has undergone a rapid improvement cycle since the release of COBOL II, Version I Release 3 in 1989.  In the ensuing years, there have been several versions of COBOL: COBOL/370, COBOL for MVS and now, COBOL for OS/390.   While all three COBOL language versions are substantially similar (together they might be called "LE COBOL") there are a few subtle differences.  COBOL II is not an LE dialect of COBOL, but it is undoubtedly the most ubiquitous commercial COBOL compiler and run-time "out there" on IBM 390 class machines.

I attribute what I see as mis-statements to the fact that David has written earlier versions of this book.  He is trying to cover a pretty comprehensive range of COBOL compilers.  If a few little odds-and-ends were missed here and there, well that's OK - COBOL is rapidly changing.  The best advice is to cross-check what David is teaching you about COBOL with the specific COBOL compiler in use at your place of employment.

This is one of the best technical books that I have read in years.  Carefully reading it and then experimenting with the demonstrated techniques will go a long way toward helping a professional COBOL programmer understand and exploit the "new COBOL."

COBOL for OS/390 Power Programming is available from MVS TRAINING, INC. publisher and provider of instructor-led training (800) 356-9093 or your favorite local bookstore.

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