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

Philippe Grosjean phgrosjean at sciviews.org
Thu Nov 18 16:24:31 CET 2004


I appreciate many comments and the various points of view, especially
because there are a couple of clear explanations why several people do not
need (or even do not want) a GUI for R!

Another part of the discussion seems to switch to the never-ending question
of "what kind of GUI"... which will never be answered, because there is not
one best GUI, and it also depends on the use (both the application and the
user). It's a long time I hesitate to propose in R-SIG-GUI + the R GUI
projects web site to place a description for one or several "prototype"
GUI(s) we would like for R, with the intention to include all the good ideas
everybody has in this list.

I never did that, because I am pretty sure it is useless! Now, I feel that
one guy, with a clear view of what he wants, a lot of free time, a lot of
energy, and some decent skills in programming, is actually required to make
real what he has in his head! Indeed, it is such a huge work that several
people are required! Here are the topics currently developed (sorry if I
don't cite Bioconductor stuff: I don't know it):

- Most of the "low-level" work is done, I think, like interface with
graphical toolkits: tcltk by Peter Dalgaard, of course, but many others
(Gtk, wxPython, ...), a better control of Rgui under Windows (ongoing,
Duncan Murdoch), ESS, ... All this is already available, even if one could
always argue that it is not optimal in some respects.

- A better console (multiple-lines editing, syntax coloring, code tip
presenting the syntax of a function when you type it, contextual completion
list, ...). This is ongoing project in both JGR and SciViews-R.

- A better table editor: RKward team.

- A classical menus/dialog box approach: John Fox's R commander,

- An object explorer: JGR, RKward, SciViews-R, experimental functions in R,

- A "plug-in" approach, that is, a piece of code that brings a GUI for a
targeted analysis and builds R code for you: RKward team, but also some
functions in svDialogs (part of the SciViews bundle, R GUI API),

- Interactive documents mixing formatted text, graphs, etc... with R
input/output: Rpad, Sweave (not interactive), and some other,

- Rich-formatted output of R objects (in/out, views, reporting,...): Eric
Lecoutre's R2HTML + SciViews-R,

- Code editor with interaction with R: Tinn-R, WinEdt, Emacs, and many

- IDE (humm, some code editors are not so far away from an IDE, but there is
still some lack here),

- A R GUI API: SciViews.

I hope all these projects will continue, will mature, and their developers
will ultimately realize that they provide complementary pieces of a giant
puzzle and start to work together. This is when it will become most
exciting! I hope also that it will result in an original GUI that keeps most
of the spirit of R, that is, not a simplified point&click UI, leading to
meaningless analyses by lazy people, but a real tool whose goal is to make R
easier and faster to learn for beginner, and pretty usable for occasional

May be, I am just a dreamer, but all I read in this discussion reinforce my
conviction that an **innovative** GUI would be a good addition to R: most
criticisms clearly relate to the kind of inflexible GUI, with a forest of
menus and submenus, and other bad things one could find. I never, and will
never advocate for such a GUI!

For sure, the alternate GUI will only support you in writing R code, and
will deliver plenty of help to achieve this goal. I think it is possible...
with enough people collaborating in a common project! I think the later
point is really the problem: not enough people, too many projects! Is it a
consequence of the way R is developed (GPL)? Well, I think so, but only
partly. It is also the consequence of ego (everybody wants to be the leader
of his own project), and a lack of communication (R-SIG-GUI is not what one
would call an active list!) Or, may be, a "good GUI" for R is a fuzzy target
and it is not possible to cristallize enough power around a common goal: to
reach it!

Anyway, despite R GUI projects are progressing very slowly, I think only
when we would have a "good GUI" available for R, we would be able to
evaluate if there are really "hidden costs" in R, as Felix Grant suggests in
his paper.

Best regards and thank you all for your comments and suggestions.

Philippe Grosjean

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