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

Zed Shaw zedshaw at zedshaw.com
Thu Nov 18 03:40:35 CET 2004

Hi Everyone,

I've been lurking on the list for a while, but found this thread very
interesting.  Basically, I agree with Felix's article except it's
assumption that these problems are open source only.  I've used plenty
of crap commercial software as a professional programmer.

I used to work on a GUI for R, but found that continuing was impossible
for me.  Part of this was personal, but part was also related to how the
R community thinks of GUIs.  In general I found that the R community was
not that interested, and many people were violently opposed to a usable
GUI.  In the end I felt that my time would be better spent on something
that would actually be appreciated, rather than ridiculed as useless.

Having said that, I really would like to give this advice to people
trying to solve the "R needs a GUI" problem:

*  One half of R is already a GUI.  If it's not, then why are there so
many plotting functions?
*  R is also a programming language.  All this talk about CLI vs GUI
completely ignores this fact.
*  There are incredibly fantastic GUIs for many other programming
languages available.  Take a look at Eclipse for Java as a great example
of how to create a platform for a language and not get in the way of the
*  Rather than focusing on this false "CLI vs. GUI" dichotomy, maybe
someone should sit down with users and analyze how they actually use the
system.  I assume that the folks on the R list would be pretty good at
analyzing user behavior.  These same people should also be good at
researching language usability.
*  I believe that you actually can have both CLI and GUI living hapily,
but only after the "programming language", "data management", and
"plotting" parts are componentized and separated.
*  I found that R would need to go in one of two directions before a GUI
is feasible:  more like a compiler, or more like a service.
	* More like a compiler means to make R more like Python, Ruby, Perl,
and other languages:  have a compiler, make byte code, use a VM, and
have the UI (no matter what type) use this system.
	* More like a service means to turn R into a separate service that is a
"black box".  I tried this route with limited success by exposing the R
interpreter with a CORBA wrapper.

That's my .02 USD from having tried this once before.  I still use R
professionally, but I just don't bother with improving it.

I won't be responding to this message, but feel free to reply anyway.


On Wed, 2004-11-17 at 10:53 +0100, Philippe Grosjean wrote:
> Hello,
> In the latest 'Scientific Computing World' magazine (issue 78, p. 22), there
> is a review on free statistical software by Felix Grant ("doesn't have to
> pay good money to obtain good statistics software"). As far as I know, this
> is the first time that R is even mentioned in this magazine, given that it
> usually discuss commercial products.

Zed A. Shaw

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