[R] The hidden costs of GPL software?

Michael Grant mwgrant2001 at yahoo.com
Fri Nov 19 17:48:17 CET 2004

I inadvertently directed this response to the R-Gui
list this morning. To those receiving a double
receipt, I give my apologies. My intended list was the
R list. 

--- Duncan Murdoch <murdoch at stats.uwo.ca> wrote:

> On Thu, 18 Nov 2004 03:24:01 -0800 (PST), Michael
> Grant
> <mwgrant2001 at yahoo.com> wrote:
> >Hmmmm, interesting thread and minds will not be
> >changed but regarding GUIs...I thought S (aka R)


> I have to disagree with you.  What you say might be
> true about *bad*
> GUIs, but I find nothing more frustrating than the
> lack of programming
> support in R.
> What's a nice GUI for programming?
> You should be able to edit code, and have R parse
> the code that you
> are editing
[snip] [snip] [snip]
> All of these things have existed for years in IDEs
> (i.e. programming
> GUIs), but most are not in R's GUIs.  

I guess we'll just agree to disagree. :O)
1.)The LACK of programming support? Isn't that a bit
of an overstatement? There are materials available, as
of ciurse you are aware. At one time or another many
of us may find it difficult to determine some 'key'
programming information at the moment. But you know
something, I've  had that happen using the packages
like you describe--this includes wired IDE help,
original documentation, and 3rd party books. I accept
that as a condition for using both free and commercial
software. And if the particular burden is too great,
then I don't use the product. Such is life :O)

2.)As you indicate below, R doesn't not have a VB or
VC++ style IDE. R doesn't have the development
environment of Smalltalk or the commercial LISPs
(sigh...) But, really, an IDE is a bit more than a
GUI, wouldn't you agree? A GUI is just one component
of an IDE.

Perhaps part of our difference is how we view
programming. I view it more as a form of expression
using a LANGUAGE. Like any language, e.g., English,
French, Chinese, you have to develop a degree of
fluency to express yourself. Some people are
comfortable working with a phrase book and others put
more effort in to learn to converse sans book. Both
approaches are quite legitimate in that either can get
the job done. (And both can fail miserably!) 

>From another perspective, I can not deny that having a
real GUI would be nice at times even for a grump like
myself. And not having such is a cost. But in my case
that cost is not the deciding factor. The fact is, I
by preference do a lot of coding--both at the
quick/dirty scale and the project scale--in R that I
could do in C/C++, FORTRAN, BASIC. I have those tools
in commerical form with IDEs

Why R? The turn around is so fast by comparison. R/S
is language in which I can much more easily and
quickly express myself.  The development team has done
a lot of work developing my high-level language for me
:O). (Note--my second hacking language is  lisp-stat,
also an interpreted, higher functionality language.) I
don't use most of R's capabilities, and 'not knowing
that which I do not know' is not an issue. When I need
something new I am able to learn it incrementally on
top of what I already know.
> That's one sort of GUI that R could have, but it's
> not the only one,
> and it's not the one that I'd use.  However, I might
> start out
> students on it.  There's a big benefit to a list of
> suggestions as
> opposed to a big blank space.
Did I suggest banning GUIs? I don't think so. Your
world is one where there are benefit for your
clients--the students. My world is turn around and
documentation. Coding is easier to document than a
complex sequence of menu actions. Indeed I would get
laughed out of Dodge City if I documented a set of
calculations: " next I clicked ...". It's that just
different requirements lead to different needs.

> >GUIs encourage a passive approach to using
> computers
> >when solving problems. In addition, it is
> regretable
> >gather 'electronic dust'.
> A lot of people do incomplete or incorrect work
> because they don't
> know any better.  It doesn't matter if they're using
> a GUI or not,
> they'll do what they think they know, and get it
> wrong.

Of course that is the case, but the limitations in a
given GUI is one more thing that puts such people in
rationalized comfort-zone with their actions.
(Typically I see this with EXCEL apps--99.9% of the
people in my trade run away from statistical
More than once I have seen this occur in a senior
scientist review capacity after management has seen
the product and 'accepted' its results. Doom, doom,
doom...shoot the messenger! Oh woe, oh woe!:O(.

Best regards, Duncan

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