R-beta: help in rsept

John Logsdon j.logsdon at lancaster.ac.uk
Wed Jan 28 12:14:04 CET 1998

On Wed, 28 Jan 1998, Robert Gentleman wrote:

... snip

> On to Ron's problem. Unfortunately R recieves no funds and hence we cannot
> really develop it at the speed we would like to. 

... etc

This is a problem that has been bothering me for some time.  At the
moment, I use RedHat Linux, Octave, occasionally R and other FSF/GPL
products.  They are generally better, at least in their fundamental
design, than the commercial versions but there is no clear mechanism to
ensure their continued development.  They certainly don't spend anything
on marketing.

Commercial products are not only expensive - much of which is the cost of
marketing, including attending conferences and going on jamborees - but in
some cases not only has the product booted off public domain software but
also maintains it's credibility by the large amount of publically
available procedures, macros etc that are put up on web and ftp sites
round the world.  I find this a bit unethical.  Oh - you generally get a
box and a glossy book. Other commercial products of course are genuinely
written from the ground up and I have no problem with that. 

I gather that if you get s/ware via FSF official sources (ie on a CD or
tape(!)), then some money filters back.  I have recently bought RedHat 5
partly for this reason.  However, most of us download off the net and end
up paying the telephone companies only.  The GPL doesn't forbid charging
for support and development - a point noticed by RedHat who now also make
available commercial support for their latest Linux version.

What is needed is (a) an easy mechanism to make contributions, (b) 
invoices (perhaps electronically generated) so that the tax-man can be
kept at bay or the cost recovered via an expenses claim.  

I think the solution is simple and would like to see an FSF-organised
world central approach with easy payment (including by credit card, which
is the best way for international payments), electronic or postal
invoicing, and a payer-specified target product(s) so that on-going
support can be ensured.  The product developers could distribute the funds
as they see fit - very popular (and good) products might attract a
considerable income while less popular products might get nothing.  This
is also a market. 

Of course, this could be set up on a product-specific basis so that you
had an R-account into which users would be gently encouraged to pour a
little cash from time to time - noting the requirement for credit cards
and invoicing above - but it would be better if organised on a GPL/FSF
world basis so that general develpoment funds could be made available for
FSF to make grants. 

I might send a sum to FSF - perhaps even by standing order every year -
with say 20% going to R, 20% to octave, 20% to general support etc etc and
trust FSF to distribute these funds honestly so that you guys out there
who do so much to generate good software can get something for your pains
(apart from the nice feeling of being the good guys that is!).  Like most
users, given time, I wuold like to be able to contribute to the coding but
(a) I don't know enough about the ins and outs of the R product or C
programming and (b) these are better developed by a fairly small team of
real experts anyway.  So all I can do is support R etc and try to solve
problems myself before bothering you with silly questions (actually there
aren't too many of these on the R list but I do see on other lists that
should really be answered with read the manual).

It is in all our interests to promote the continued availability and
future development as well as to support the continued help available via
mailing lists such as this (rather more prompt than many commercial
responses!).  Maybe cynics might expect noone to pay anything and maybe
some wouldn't. But the alternative is to let Mr Gates and his ilk take
over the world and let the FSF ideal die.

So, Robert, Ross and everyone, your work is appreciated and obviously you
can't be expected to support every platform/OS simultaneously.  But some
funds I guess would help.  Is this a way forward? 

Best wishes


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