[R-gui] Re: [R] The hidden costs of GPL software?

Frank E Harrell Jr f.harrell at vanderbilt.edu
Wed Nov 17 23:55:54 CET 2004

Patrick Burns wrote:
> 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.
> [ ...]

I really agree with you Patrick.  To me the keys are having better help 
search capabilities, linking help files to case studies or at least 
detailed examples, having a navigator by keywords (a rudimentary one is 
at http://biostat.mc.vanderbilt.edu/s/finder/finder.html), having a 
great library of examples keyed by statistical goals (a la BUGS examples 
guides), and having a menu-driven skeleton code generator that gives 
beginners a starting script to edit to use their variable names, etc. 
Also I think we need a discussion board that has a better "memory" for 
new users, like some of the user forums currently on the web, or using a 


Frank E Harrell Jr   Professor and Chair           School of Medicine
                      Department of Biostatistics   Vanderbilt University

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