[R] History of R

John C Frain frainj at gmail.com
Sun Feb 17 18:25:16 CET 2008

The windows port of R has been very good for a long time. I know some
people who even think that the current windows port is better than the
Linux version.  Thanks to those who have made the windows port
available and who continue to maintain it.  I now use both MS Windows
and Linux (Fedora) and would not like to lose either..

The windows port of Octave before the recent version 3 was not good.
As far as I know one was restricted to a very old version or using
cygwin.  This would not suit most users of windows.  Thus Octave was
not available to the majority of MS windows users.  Compared to R
which had the latest version available to Windows users is it any
wonder that Octave is not as popular.  The new version 3 is a vast
improvement and should be looked at by anyone familiar with Matlab.
The new front end, using the SciTE editor is a vast improvement on
what was previously available.

Best Regards


On 16/02/2008, Kathy Gerber <kathy at virginia.edu> wrote:
> Thanks to all who responded so thoughtfully.  I would like to summarize
> briefly the observations and opinions so far with some of my own
> interpretations and thoughts.  John Fox is working on a much deeper
> history scheduled for August, and his three factors are a good starting
> point.
> John Fox wrote:
> > Dear Kathy,
> >
> > As Achim has mentioned, I've been doing interviews with members of the R
> > Core team and with some other people central to the R Project. Although I
> > haven't entirely organized and finished reflecting on this material, the
> > following factors come immediately to mind:
> >
> > (1) Doug has already mentioned the personal and technical talents of the
> > original developers, and their generosity in opening up development to a
> > Core group and in making R open source. To that I would add the collective
> > talents of the Core group as a whole.
> >
> There are three attributes here:
> a) Personal talent:  I take this to mean communication and teaching
> ability along with leadership.  These are the talents and skills that
> provide groundwork for a mature type of collaboration, more along the
> lines found in tightly focused academic areas.  I would think that these
> attributes are  big factors in why R has not devolved into forks and
> holy wars.
> b) Technical talent: Both the technical talent and domain knowledge of
> the original developers and the R Core group are better than
> consistently solid.  The leaders are not rock stars or cult figures.
> c) Generosity:  The responses themselves sincerely gave credit to
> others.  While this may appear to be consistent with Eric Raymond's
> notions of open source as built upon a "gift culture," I haven't really
> seen this going on elsewhere at such a level.
> > (2) R implements the S language, which already was in wide use, and which
> > has many attractive features (each of use, etc.).
> >
> >
> One person who emailed privately pointed out that many open source
> projects are "knock-offs," e.g., linux itself is a unix knock-off.  I
> believe the point is that R is not a totally new approach or invention,
> rather it is based upon advancing some product or collection of ideas
> that are already in place.
> > (3) The R package system and the establishment of CRAN allowed literally
> > hundreds of developers to contribute to the broader R Project. More
> > generally, the Core group worked to integrate users into the R Project,
> > e.g., through R News, the r-help list (though naive users aren't always
> > treated gently there), and the useR conferences.
> >
> >
> Again, this is another distinctive feature, perhaps not in concept but
> in degree and level of actual success thanks to good planning.  Like so
> many other points, this goes back to the leadership.
> Another point made was the need or demand for such an application.   Yet
> another was the planning that goes into avoiding breakage of packages.
> What no one mentioned though was the idea of standards.
> Finally, in comparing with Octave, it was mentioned that Octave may be
> stuck in a position of playing catch-up to Matlab.
> What I have here is far from complete, but I did want to give some
> feedback tonight.  Again, thanks to you all for such articulate
> responses, and I will point to my slides, and later on write up a summary.
> Kathy Gerber
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John C Frain
Trinity College Dublin
Dublin 2
mailto:frainj at tcd.ie
mailto:frainj at gmail.com

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