[S] Comments on Concerns over New Versions of S-PLUS for Windows

Steven P. Millard (steven.p.millard@mci2000.com)
Mon, 25 May 1998 09:56:02 -0700


Hello,

I'd like to make some comments on some concerns raised recently about
the fast pace of releases of S-PLUS for Windows and the emphasis on the
GUI side of things.

Eric Gibson wrote:

"...Maybe this is unique to us and not other users. Or maybe.... I
wonder if maybe Splus is moving a bit too fast? Longtime veteran users
may have found it easy to make the transition from one version to the
next, but I wonder if it is so easy for the typical user?
In any event, I like Splus and will always continue to use it, but I
have to wonder if continuing to add so many bells and whistles at such
a fast pace will result in many people unable to see the forest for the
trees?
Although my programming skills are novice compared to many, I thought
the real power of S was in the programming and not in the pop-down
menus and GUI...."

and Z. Todd Taylor wrote:
"...What scares me about the rapid development of Splus is that it is
so focused on GUI bells and whistles that new users are encouraged to
remain ignorant of its real potential. The latest "standard" Splus
hides the S language altogether. :-("

One thing to keep in mind is that like any good business, MathSoft
wants to expand its market and grow. In order to do this, it has to
create products that will reach broader markets. The people who use
the command version of S-PLUS represent a small fraction of all people
who use some sort of software to analyze data and produce graphs (I
include people who use spreadsheets in this population). MathSoft
would of course like to get more people to use its products. In order
to do that, it has to create new products to compete with other
products catering to the various markets in data analysis software.
This is no doubt one of the main reasons a GUI was added to the
Windows version, since just about every other data analysis package
that runs under Windows already has pull-down menus and buttons. It is
also why there is now a "Standard" and "Professional" version of S-PLUS
for Windows. (I have not read any formal surveys, but I am willing to
bet that the large majority of people who teach statistics and use
software in their course use a package with pull-down menus.)

(As a tangential and anecdotal aside, a colleague and I gave a
short-course in time series analysis for a U.S. Government agency last
fall. We used the Windows version of S-PLUS to illustrate concepts,
and included some background on how to use S-PLUS. We used version 3.3
rather than 4.0. I don't remember if 4.0 was even out at the time.
Almost all of the evaluation forms from the course were positive, but
I remember one in particular that included a remark to the effect, "Why
are you wasting our time showing us archaic command-line driven
software?".)

A second thing to keep in mind is that people who have figured out how
to program in S-PLUS have a certain level of technical ability that not
everyone shares. Yet there are many, many people who don't have this
technical ability for various reasons (including lack of time, other
job responsibilities, talents and gifts in other areas, etc.), who have
to analyze data and create graphs.

A third thing to keep in mind is that the people who subscribe to and
send posts to S-news represent a self-selected sample (from the
population of S-PLUS users, and of course the population of all people
who use data analysis software). More than once someone has written to
this list with a query unrelated to S-PLUS, apologizing for the
tangential question, but using the excuse that he/she has found that
the people who read and respond to this list compose one of the
brightest groups around. (Let me insert a disclaimer here that I
really don't include myself in that group. I think I contribute more
to the questions on this list than I do the answers.)

Finally, as if it wasn't enough of a challenge already to educate
people about statistics in general and how to use the command-line
version of S-PLUS in particular, the new products coming from MathSoft
represent a challenge to documentation, training, and technical
support. There are several excellent books out on various aspects of
learning and using the command-line version of S-PLUS, many authored by
regular contributors to this list. The person using the Standard
edition of S-PLUS will no doubt represent a very different kind of user
than the one who needs the Professional version. I expect questions
from Standard edition users to start showing up on S-news in a couple
of months if not sooner, and I know the people on this list will
respond generously, as they always have.

I think the people on this list are a tremendous resource for
information on basic statistics, advanced statistics, and cutting-edge
statistics, besides of course being a resource for how to use S-PLUS.
I also think the people on this list can also be a great resource on
ways to effectively train people at various levels of technical ability
in understanding statistics and using S-PLUS to analyze data and
communicate results.

Thank you so much for your time.

Sincerely,

--Steve M.

_____________
| *** | Steven P. Millard, Ph.D.
| * |
| * * * | P robability, TEL: 206-528-4877
| * * * | S tatistics & FAX: 206-528-4802
| * | I nformation E-mail: SMillard@ProbStatInfo.com
| * | Web: www.ProbStatInfo.com
| *** | 7723 44th Avenue NE
|___________| Seattle, WA 98115-5117 USA

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