[R] Summary: Future directions for R on Windows
Prof Brian D Ripley
ripley at stats.ox.ac.uk
Thu Apr 22 23:03:41 CEST 1999
On Thursday 15 March I wrote:
> Now rw0640 is released [...] we are now thinking of possible
> enhancements, and would like your comments on the following ideas.
We have had 25 replies, and congratulations to all but one person for
following the instructions on where to send them. They were very
constructive and raised a lot of points not taken up here but which we
will discuss amongst ourselves and R-core.
Here is a summary of opinion, and our current views.
o Use a standard MDI interface like MS Office's, say. Would you
prefer an MDI interface to the current one, and if so is the
`standard' `look and feel' important?
Pretty evenly divided between `be as standard as possible' and
`happy to be different'. For those who didn't know, MDI is
`multiple document interface' and means lots of sub-windows in one
Guido has been busy, and a MDI version is running as a
prototype. The next rwxxxx will allow the current (SDI) or MDI
styles via a configuration file / command-line flag. We are looking
at building a different front-end with the `standard' look, as an
o Replace the help system by standard Windows help files. Would
you like this instead of text help, html help or both?
Some of you want this, some of you hate it. Someone who hates them
wants a help file system that allows full text searches, apparently
unaware that Windows help files are the one choice that does allow them.
The hooks are now in, and I will work slowly on Rd -> hlp
conversion scripts. Then those who want it can use it.
o rw0640 implements offline printing via latex. Do you anticipate
using this? (It needs lots of extra files.) Would printing from
a Windows help file be an adequate replacement?
A few people use it / or will use it. One thinks people who use
Windows do not use LaTeX, but two high-quality freeware projects
(fptex, MiKTeX) show otherwise. Some of you would prefer PS or PDF.
Keep distributing the latex files. The future of help formats for R
as a whole is under discussion.
o Build an R dll that can be linked into other applications to drive
effectively an R command-line by passing input strings. Possibly
versions without and without on-screen graphics.
Those who saw a use were very enthusiastic.
o Implement inter-process communications, either
- Windows-style (DDE and ActiveX automation) or
- CORBA-style (real standards)
This might allow R to be called from a spreadsheet or Visual Basic
front-end, for example.
Those who saw a use were very enthusiastic, and a few wanted CORBA,
but most want to be able to communicate with the likes of Excel.
This is linked to the previous point and to the overall design of R.
We will investigate what might be possible, but do not expect
progress real soon.
o Would you prefer an installer as well as / instead of the
current set of smallish zip files?
Many people said they don't want one but knew people who would like
one. Many people don't trust them! Many people want < 1 floppy chunks.
To build an installer like that used by GSView, that unpacks the zip
files for you to a place you choose and allows you to select the
parts you want. I think this might be helpful for installing
packages too. The pieces will remain in the 1Mb region.
o How important is it that R can be built from source with free
tools? (We are not contemplating requiring any new tools to
install packages, but a Windows-standard interface probably
requires a commercial compiler with MFC.)
Not much interest in building R from source from the respondents but
some strong views from within R-core. A few people said they
thought this should be possible but would not actually do it.
We will experiment. There are some concerns that the port should
not depend on one or two people, but I feel requiring a serious
developer of R itself to buy a particular compiler is not really an
issue. (I have done this many times for other systems. My time is
much more expensive than compilers.)
We would also welcome other suggestions. Some of this appears easy,
some rather hard, so there are no guarantees that anything will be done.
There were lots of points. The most common requests were for
o Some sort of programmable menu system to add commands to menus.
o A spreadsheet-like data editor in R.
o Customizable graphics (I take this to mean editing graphics after
they are drawn).
o Connections to external databases, ability to read/write Excel and
dBase files, .... (To some extent having ActiveX would avoid any
need for this.)
o Ability to use VC++ to compile for R. [This one is already there:
see the V&R2 `R Complements' for a worked example, and I have
added that info to readme.packages.]
o Some of you want more optimized code. This might be possible via
compiler options although we think the compiler we use is quite
good and our version compares well with the Linux version on the
same hardware. There are performance tuning issues for R, but not
just this version and not yet.
and lots of not-specific-to-Windows things like gam(), flexible memory
management, three-dimensional and Trellis-like graphics. Perhaps
unsuprisingly the first four points are common in other Windows
statistical systems, including the `R-like' one.
Some of those things are hard for us to see how to do, and we are not
enamoured of low-level Windows programming. We would appreciate help
-- Examples of database connections / spreadsheet imports from open
source packages we could use for inspiration, and any examples of
open source/other code that already does that.
-- Windows programming. Someone who is quite familiar with Windows
programming could do many of these things rather quickly without
knowing anything about R internals.
As before, private comments only please, and remember that you will only
get what the volunteers (guido + I + ...) want to work on.
Brian D. Ripley, ripley at stats.ox.ac.uk
Professor of Applied Statistics, http://www.stats.ox.ac.uk/~ripley/
University of Oxford, Tel: +44 1865 272861 (self)
1 South Parks Road, +44 1865 272860 (secr)
Oxford OX1 3TG, UK Fax: +44 1865 272595
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