[R] The hidden costs of GPL software?

Berton Gunter gunter.berton at gene.com
Wed Nov 17 17:15:08 CET 2004


I have much enjoyed the discussion. Thanks to all who have contibuted.

Two quick comments:

1. The problem of designing a GUI to make R's functionality more accessible
is, I believe just one component of the larger issue of making
statistical/data analysis functionality available to those who need to use
it but do not have sufficient understanding and background to do so
properly. I certainly include myself in this category in many circumstances.
A willingness and commitment to learning ( = hard work!) is the only
rational solution here, and saying that one doesn't have the time really
doesn't cut it for me. Ditto for R language functionality?

2. However, R has many attractive features for data manipulation and
graphics that make it attractive for common tasks that are now done most
frequently with (ugh!) Excel (NOT Statistica, Systat, et. al.). For this
subset of R's functionality a GUI would be attractive. However, writing a
good GUI for graphing that even begins to take advantage of R's flexibility
and power in this arena is an enormous -- perhaps an impossible -- task.
Witness the S-Plus graphics GUI, which I think is truly awful (and appears
to thwart more than it helps, at least from many of the queries one sees on
that news list). So I'm not sanguine.

Again, thanks to all for a thoughful and enjoyable discussion.

-- Bert Gunter
Genentech Non-Clinical Statistics
South San Francisco, CA
"The business of the statistician is to catalyze the scientific learning
process."  - George E. P. Box

> -----Original Message-----
> From: r-help-bounces at stat.math.ethz.ch 
> [mailto:r-help-bounces at stat.math.ethz.ch] On Behalf Of Patrick Burns
> Sent: Wednesday, November 17, 2004 6:28 AM
> To: Jan P. Smit
> Cc: r-help at stat.math.ethz.ch; Philippe Grosjean; 
> r-sig-gui at stat.math.ethz.ch
> Subject: Re: [R] The hidden costs of GPL software?
> I'm a big advocate -- perhaps even fanatic -- of  making R easier for
> novices in order to spread its use, but I'm not convinced that  a GUI
> (at least in the traditional form) is the most valuable approach.
> Perhaps an overly harsh summary of some of Ted Harding's statements
> is: You can make a truck easier to get into by taking off the 
> wheels, but
> that doesn't make it more useful.
> In terms of GUIs, I think what R should focus on is the 
> ability for  user's
> to make their own specialized GUI.  So that a knowledgeable programmer
> at an installation can create a system that is easy for 
> unsophisticated
> users for the limited number of tasks that are to be done.  
> The ultimate
> users may not even need to know that R exists.
> I think Ted Harding was on  the mark when he said that it is the help
> system that needs enhancement.  I can imagine a system that gets the
> user to the right function and then helps fill in the 
> arguments; all of the
> time pointing them towards the command line rather than away from
> it.
> The author of the referenced article highlighted some hidden 
> costs of R,
> but did not highlight the hidden benefits (because they were 
> hidden from
> him).  A big benefit of R is all of the bugs that aren't in 
> it (which may or
> may not be due to its free status).
> Patrick Burns
> Burns Statistics
> patrick at burns-stat.com
> +44 (0)20 8525 0696
> http://www.burns-stat.com
> (home of S Poetry and "A Guide for the Unwilling S User")
> Jan P. Smit wrote:
> > Dear Phillippe,
> >
> > Very interesting. The URL of the article is 
> > http://www.scientific-computing.com/scwsepoct04free_statistics.html.
> >
> > Best regards,
> >
> > Jan Smit
> >
> >
> > Philippe Grosjean wrote:
> >
> >> Hello,
> >>
> >> In the latest 'Scientific Computing World' magazine (issue 78, p. 
> >> 22), there
> >> is a review on free statistical software by Felix Grant ("doesn't 
> >> have to
> >> pay good money to obtain good statistics software"). As far as I 
> >> know, this
> >> is the first time that R is even mentioned in this magazine, given 
> >> that it
> >> usually discuss commercial products.
> >>
> [ ...]
> >>
> >
> >
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