[R] The hidden costs of GPL software?

Lorenz.Gygax@fat.admin.ch Lorenz.Gygax at fat.admin.ch
Wed Nov 17 11:29:42 CET 2004

> So, is this analysis correct: are there hidden costs for free 
> software like R in the time required to learn it? At least
> currently, for the people I know (biologists, ecologists,
> oceanographers, ...), this is perfectly true. This is even an
> insurmountable barrier for many of them I know, and they
> have given up (they come back to Statistica, Systat, or S-PLUS
> using exclusively functions they can reach through menus/dialog
> boxes).

I guess you are right, in that the steep initial learning curve could be
smoothed for beginners. On the other hand I do not see how a GUI for R could
cover more than the bare essentials because the available functionality is
so vast. We also have S-Plus at our research institution and even there, I
see, that people who do not know about the underlying code have difficulties
in using the GUI.

I personally believe that it is more a question how one is used to do
statistics. Click and drag is the norm. (And I guess it is usually also the
norm of how people/scientists use other Software.) In my eyes, using code
instead, means that one is able to repeat the steps of an evaluation easily
and to document at the same time what has been done. Very soon evaluations
(and data handling) can be done far more efficiently than with click and
drag. All these advantages outweigh the initial costs by several orders of
magnitude. Thus, in my opinion it is more a question of education such that
people might realize how they can work efficiently and cleanly. Perhaps one
could even say that such an approach is more scientific because, in
principal, it can be easily communicated and reproduced.

It is, of course, easy for me to make these statements, as in the meantime I
have been using S (S-Plus and R) for - gosh - over 10 years. But I see in
some projects that I supervise that people get started easily with a snippet
of code that I provide and the insight of the usefulness of such a work
approach is usually easily within reach.

Lorenz Gygax, Dr. sc. nat.
Tel: +41 (0)52 368 33 84 / lorenz.gygax at fat.admin.ch      
Centre for proper housing of ruminants and pigs
Swiss Federal Veterinary Office

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