[R] What happenes with R-gnome?

Douglas Bates bates at stat.wisc.edu
Thu Aug 31 14:04:48 CEST 2000

Peter Dalgaard BSA <p.dalgaard at biostat.ku.dk> writes:

> Paul E Johnson <pauljohn at ukans.edu> writes:
> > When I saw "SciGraphica":
> > http://magnet.fsu.edu/~feiguin/scigraphica/screenshots.html
> > 
> > I wished it could be a GUI frontend for R on Unix.


> However, the choice of GUI toolkit is more or less orthogonal to the
> issue of having a plotting interface like the one on those
> screenshots. I do sympathize with the desire to have simple and
> accessible interfaces like that, but one has to be aware of the
> drawbacks. Consider the following R function (somewhat simplified from
> the original)
> "trace.plot" <-
>     function(x, y, g){
>         g <- factor(g)
>         dfr <- na.omit(data.frame(x=x,y=y,g=g))
>         dfr <- dfr[order(dfr$g,dfr$x),] 
>         plot(x, y, type="n")
>         for ( i in levels(g) )
>             evalq(lines(x,y), subset(dfr,g==i))
>     }

I think the Peter's point here deserves to be emphasized.  GUI's are
very helpful in performing a task for the first time but often get in
the way when doing tasks repeatedly.  That is why I think there will
continue to be a place for "command line" interfaces, like the S
programming language, even in the age of Microsoft Office and even for
things like creating data graphics.

About a year ago Bill Venables and I were at a conference and happened
to be sitting together during a presentation on state-of-the-art data
graphics.  The presenter showed a series of about 10 slides to
demonstrate how easy it way to produce a certain type of plot.  The
commentary went like "You click on this gadget in the toolbar and
(next slide) drag that pointer to the plotting area and (next slide)
the plot changes to this form.  Then you go back to the data bin (next
slide) and click on another variable and (next slide) drag that to the
vertical axis and ..."  After the 10 slides Bill and I looked at each
other and both remarked that you could do the whole thing in a 1-line
trellis formula and furthermore it could be described in a fraction of
the time required to describe the GUI approach.  (I should note that
trellis is available in S-PLUS and not currenly available in R.)

This is not to say that there is no place for GUI's.  I'm just saying
that the usefulness of GUI's for tasks like creating data graphics is
often overestimated.  Or, looking at things the other way, the
usefulness of command line interfaces is often underestimated.  Bill
has remarked that a common comment from students in his short courses
is that they hadn't realized how quickly tasks could be accomplished
when using the text-based interface to S-PLUS instead of the GUI.

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