[R] Ubuntu, Revolutions, R

Andy Choens andy.choens at gmail.com
Mon Oct 5 21:06:31 CEST 2009

On Monday 05 October 2009 09:38:21 am David M Smith wrote:
> Andrew is correct: the upcoming release of Ubuntu (Karmic Koala) will
> feature the REvolution R distribution. (I am a REvolution Computing
> employee.) Our developers have been working with Canonical's
> representatives over the past several months to upgrade R in Ubuntu to
> 2.9.2 and to include the REvolution R extensions.
> > My question(s) for the community is this (pick any question(s) you like
> > to answer:
> >        Should I install the REvolution Computing packages?
> >        Do these packages really make R faster?
> >        Are these packages stable?
> >        What are your experiences with REvolution Computing software?
> Whether you install the REvolution Computing packages is up to you.
> When you upgrade to KK, the only change made to stock R is the
> .Rprofile.site file, adding the message about how to install the
> extensions. (You can edit the .Rprofile.site file if you prefer.)
> If you do install the extensions, no changes are made to the core R
> language (it is 100% compatible with stock R). R will be linked to
> multi-threaded math libraries, which will improve performance for some
> mathematical operations (particularly on a multi-core system, where
> more than 1 processor will be used). So you should expect it to make R
> faster.
> Installing the extensions also installs some additional packages from
> REvolution Computing, including foreach and iterators, and Simon
> Urbanek's multicore package from CRAN. The REvolution packages have
> been in use for over a year, and are very stable. In any case they are
> not attached by default. But if you do load these packages, you can
> use the "foreach" function to parallelize loops, making R run faster
> on multicore systems.
> I'll leave others to speak of their experiences of REvolution
> Computing software (our contributions to the community include the
> packages nws, foreach, iterators, doSNOW and doMC and REvolution R
> itself). But from my personal perspective, I'm proud to have been able
> to extend awareness and use of R to new domains, and to improve the
> performance of R for many users.
> # David Smith
> Director of Community, REvolution Computing


Thank you for this informative response, and for identifying yourself clearly 
as an employee of REvolution Computing. Being able to use more than a single 
processor for some R projects sounds tantalizing and I will admit that I need 
to learn more about the new functions such as foreach, iterators, etc. I have 
an odfWeave project that would benefit greatly from a parallel loop statement. 
I am also glad to hear that the r-core package has not been affected directly, 
giving users the option whether or not to use these extensions.

I do not want to discourage companies from monetizing open-source projects. 
Since these packages are also open-source, I suspect I will install them and 
learn a few new tricks. But, I think companies like REvolution Computing need 
to be careful in how they integrate with a project like Ubuntu. While it is 
entirely possible that I missed an obvious announcement about this addition to 
Karmic, I would have appreciated knowing more about this new collaboration up-
front, rather than discovering it after upgrading. If I've missed something  
obvious please feel free to point out my error.

An obvious problem with my request is that this is the sort of change / 
improvement that is unlikely to make it into the "New Features" publications 
produced by Canonical, since R users are obviously a tiny minority of Ubuntu 
users. I think it's going to be important for Canonical and it's partners (not 
just your company) to be more aggressive in communicating these sorts of 
changes to the affected public.


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