[R-gui] [Rd] R GUI considerations (was: R, Wine, and multi-threadedness)

James Wettenhall wettenhall at wehi.EDU.AU
Thu Oct 20 07:08:26 CEST 2005

Hi Peter and everyone,

[Hmmm, didn't I say I was not really interested in spending time getting
into these discussions anymore?  Oh well, I can't help myself. ;-) ]

> Why would you want a GUI for something like R in the first
> place? It is a programming language. That is its force. Nothing
> beats the command line.

I think there are many people who would strongly disagree with your
suggestion that there is no point in developing GUIs for R.  But there is
also some ambiguity about what is meant by a GUI - an Interactive
Development Environment (IDE) for developers or a GUI for users who are
highly intelligent, but have no interest whatsoever in ever learning how
to use a command-line interface, whilst still wanting to access some of
the functionality in R/Bioconductor.

Some statisticians / numerical computing specialists work in isolation and
like to advertise that some of their work is very "applied" e.g. they are
working on a project which will save the world or cure cancer or whatever
[sorry for the exaggeration] but this is a natural way for them to market
the importance of their field of research and feel good about themselves.

On the otherhand, there are people like the bioinformatics group I work in
who are a very successful research group, partly because we don't work in
isolation.  Instead we collaborate very closely with scientists from other
fields (i.e. biomedical scientists), but there is an extreme danger here
of being used as a service group (like I.T. support) by the biomedical
scientists who don't appreciate how much work is involved in computer
programming, statistics etc.  So one solution is to use a language like R,
with the philosophy "users become developers", i.e. rather than having to
learn an intimidating hierarchy of 100's of classes in some object
oriented language [OK, I'm exaggerating here], the user can begin using R
quite gently (but still do some powerful statistical calculations) and
then gradually become more advanced.  Now some of the (extremely
intelligent) biologists we collaborate with are very fearful of getting
started in a command-line interface, so they keep asking us to do mundane
things for them which are not going to lead to any research publications
for us - i.e. we feel like we are just being used as I.T. support.  So by
providing a GUI to them, getting started in R is less intimidating for
them, so then we can hopefully spend less time doing mundane numerical
computing tasks for our collaborators and have more time to do our own
serious research.  And we can even publish our work on developing GUIs
which we have - just a short article in Bioinformatics OUP so far - and
John Fox has published a full-length article on Rcmdr in the Journal of
Statistical Software - great stuff!

Does that make sense?

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