Thursday, September 23, 2010

SAS fail!

I was just reading this times article on R -- I guess SAS is feeling the pinch from so many people swtiching. In any case, a SAS representative is quoted:

“I think [R] addresses a niche market for high-end data analysts that want free, readily available code," said Anne H. Milley, director of technology product marketing at SAS. She adds, “We have customers who build engines for aircraft. I am happy they are not using freeware when I get on a jet.”


Happy they're not using freeware when you get on a jet? Because a small corporate staff can make a better product than the whole world working together? I, for one, am happy that I'm not using their product!

Later, one of the co-founders of R (Ross Ihaka) nails it:

“R is a real demonstration of the power of collaboration, and I don’t think you could construct something like this any other way,” Mr. Ihaka said. “We could have chosen to be commercial, and we would have sold five copies of the software.”

The turn to open source here is interesting. But more and more I'm moving to Google's closed-source-but-free model.* I don't think there will be a google R anytime soon, so at least in the stats realm we're fine for a while.

I was surprised to learn yesterday that there are commercial implementations of R. I guess I don't have a problem with people packaging R slightly differently and providing support (and charging a fee). Well, actually I do think it's a little weird to take an open source project and package it such that it becomes (partially) closed.

But what type of support would a commercial operation provide? Surely you couldn't call them and say "We have data on X and we're interesting in some relationships among them - What statistical methods should we use and how do we run them on your product?" Maybe it's just this latter part (how to run them?) that you can ask? But if you've looked up the appropriate methods already, then it's a short jump to figure out how to run it in R.

Maybe this is why I hadn't heard of the commercial implementations before -- they're basically useless in the face of such a strong userbase and narrow scope of the software.

*I'm kind of migrating to Chrome and I already use gmail and docs extensively. Oh, and this blog is on blogger.

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