[R] The hidden costs of GPL software?

Spencer Graves spencer.graves at pdf.com
Wed Nov 17 19:22:01 CET 2004

      I agree with Bert.  Thanks to all who contributed.  I'd like to 
add one comment I didn't see in the thread so far: 

      The corporate legal where I work is deathly afraid of the GNU 
General Public License (GPL), because if we touch GPL software 
inappropriately with our commercial software, our copyrights are 
replaced by the GPL.  This in turn means we can't charge royalties, 
which means we can't repay the investors who covered our initial 
development costs, and we file for bankruptcy.  The rabid capitalists 
meet the rabid socialists and walk away, shaking their heads.  (Sec. 2.b 
of the GPL:  "You must cause any work that you distribute or publish, 
that in whole or in part contains or is derived from the Program or any 
part thereof, to be licensed as a whole at no charge to all third 
parties under the terms of this License."  We can get around this by 
packaging accesses to GPL software as separately installed add-on(s), 
because then only the add-on(s) would be covered by the GPL.)  Our 
corporate legal is more concerned about a possible law suit from a 
possible competitor than from the R Foundation, but the threat is still 
real and still being adjudicated in other cases. 

      If the GPL were not so tight on this point, someone could 
commercialize a GUI for R without having to offer their source code 
under the GPL. 

      However, even without this change, R seems to be the platform of 
choice for new statistical algorithm development by a growing portion of 
the international scientific community.  Moreover, from my experience 
with this listserve, the technical support here is far superior to 
anything I've experienced with any other software in the 40+ years since 
I wrote my first Fortran code. 

      Best Wishes,
      spencer graves

Berton Gunter wrote:

>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 
>>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
>>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
>>(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 
>>>Best regards,
>>>Jan Smit
>>>Philippe Grosjean wrote:
>>>>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.
>>[ ...]
>>R-help at stat.math.ethz.ch mailing list
>>PLEASE do read the posting guide! 
>R-help at stat.math.ethz.ch mailing list
>PLEASE do read the posting guide! http://www.R-project.org/posting-guide.html

Spencer Graves, PhD, Senior Development Engineer
O:  (408)938-4420;  mobile:  (408)655-4567

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