[R] The hidden costs of GPL software?

Mike Prager Mike.Prager at noaa.gov
Thu Nov 18 15:59:36 CET 2004

At 11/18/2004 07:01 AM Thursday, Thomas Schönhoff wrote:

>To sum up, what I am in need to is an extensive example based help-system, 
>focused on how to do things in R. In parts this is already there, i.e. 
>SimpleR from Verzani (contributed docs area) etc.
>Hopefully I can  contribute to this in future, since it is seems to me 
>invaluable to learn R by going through example-based lessons (some are 
>found in vignette() ).
>These are much more comprehensible to me than those short reference like 
>entries in the current help-system, mostly due to their very technical 
>approach (same is to be said about the official GNU R manuals, especially 
>"The R Language", which wasn't a great help for me when I took my first 
>look at GNU R). In this context something like the GuideMaps of Vista come 
>to my mind!
>But to be as clear as possible, I think GNU R is great and I appreciate 
>all the efforts done by the R core team and associates!
>Nevertheless it seems to be valuable to re-think the help-system in R with 
>respect to those who may have a good understanding in statistics, but 
>lacking some basic experiences in how to introduce themselves to 
>sophisticated world of R/S languages.

(I posted similar material before, but it was moved to R-devel, and I 
wanted to express a bit of it here.)

I have frequently felt, like Thomas, that what could make R easier to use 
is not a GUI, but a help system more focused on tasks and examples, rather 
than on functions and packages.  This has obvious and large costs of 
development, and I am unlikely to contribute much myself, for reasons of 
time and ability.  Yet, I mention it for the sake of this discussion.

Such a help system could be a tree (or key) structure in which through 
making choices, the user's description of the desired task is gradually 
narrowed.  At the end of each twig of the tree would be a list of suggested 
functions for solving the problem, hyperlinked into the existing help 
system (which in many ways is outstanding and has evolved just as fast as R 
itself).  This could be coupled with the continued expansion of the number 
of examples in the help system.

Now I must express appreciation for what exists already that helps in this 
regard:  MASS (in its many editions), Introductory Statistics with R, 
Simple R, and the other free documentation that so many authors have 
generously provided.  Not to mention the superlative contribution of R 
itself, and the work of the R development team.  It is beyond my 
understanding how something so valuable and well thought out has been 
created by people with so many other responsibilities.


Michael Prager, Ph.D.
Population Dynamics Team, NMFS SE Fisheries Science Center
NOAA Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research
Beaufort, North Carolina  28516

More information about the R-help mailing list