Re: [R] History of R

From: John Sorkin <>
Date: Fri, 15 Feb 2008 16:42:40 -0500

A suggestion. As you gather your information about the history, I suggest you put fingers to keyboard and write down the history. You could start with the material Douglas just sent to you. Perhaps we can convince the R folks to place the history on the CRAN website - perhaps in WIKI format so our founding fathers, and mothers, can add to the history. I certainly would be nice to be able to give credit to the may people who have selflessly contributed their time, effort, and expertise to the R project!. John

John Sorkin M.D., Ph.D.
Chief, Biostatistics and Informatics
University of Maryland School of Medicine Division of Gerontology Baltimore VA Medical Center
10 North Greene Street
Baltimore, MD 21201-1524
(Phone) 410-605-7119
(Fax) 410-605-7913 (Please call phone number above prior to faxing)

>>> "Douglas Bates" <> 2/15/2008 4:23 PM >>>
On Fri, Feb 15, 2008 at 1:53 PM, Kathy Gerber <> wrote:
> Earlier today I sent a question to Frank Harrell as an R developer with
> whom I am most familiar. He suggested also that I put my questions to
> the list for additional responses. Next month I'll be giving a talk on
> R as an example of high quality open source software. I think there is
> much to learn from R as a high quality extensible product that (at least
> as far as I can tell) has never been "spun" or "hyped" like so many open
> source fads.

> The question that intrigues me the most is why is R as an open source
> project is so incredibly successful and other projects, say for example,
> Octave don't enjoy that level of success?

First and foremost there is the incredible generosity of Ross Ihaka and Robert Gentleman who, after spending an enormous amount of time and effort in development of the initial implementation, did not demand exclusive ownership of their work but allowed others to make changes. I believe Martin Maechler was the first non-Auckland person to get write access to the source code repository and I'm sure that the good experience of working at a distance with Martin persuaded R & R to open it up to others. Martin is polite, considerate, meticulous and precise (he is a German-speaking Swiss so meticulous and precise kind of comes with the territory) and you couldn't ask for a first experience in sharing something that is very valuable to you with someone whom you may never have met in person.

Not everyone has been that pleasant to work with. One of the first things that I did when I joined R-core was to blow up at Kurt and Fritz about something - on Christmas Eve! I surprised the group didn't boot me out after that start.

When a project is gaining momentum the personalities of the initial developers have a big influence on its success. The R project has been fortunate in that regard.

> I have some ideas of course, but I would really like to know your
> thoughts when you look at R from such a vantage point.

> Thanks.
> Kathy Gerber
> University of Virginia
> ITC - Research Computing Support
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