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Re: Octave advocacy

From: Mike Miller
Subject: Re: Octave advocacy
Date: Fri, 17 Sep 2004 00:16:56 -0500 (CDT)

On Thu, 16 Sep 2004, John W. Eaton wrote:

The following message was posted to sci.math.num-analysis today.

 From: rif <address@hidden>

This is Rif:

 Subject: Re: best software environment for numerical analysis
 Newsgroups: sci.math.num-analysis
 Date: 16 Sep 2004 14:42:23 -0400
 Organization: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

 I prefer R, which is the successor of S.

It's not "the successor of S." It is an open-source language and environment that was designed to work very much like S or S-Plus.

It's free (beer and freedom), has much better graphics than Octave, has a good high-level control language, and has a huge array of software available.

I do like R graphics. Apparently, the graphics routines are built into R and R does not call gnuplot. Octave has "a huge array of software" available too.

It was designed with statistics in mind, but is extremely useful for a wide range of numerical tasks.

I prefer Octave for my numerical work, but maybe that is partly because I *know* Octave much better than I know R. I'll tell you one thing. I can do things like this in Octave...

echo 'sqrt(29)' | octave -q

...and more elaborate things, and I do so dozens of times per day. I don't know if R can do that kind of thing for me.

(IMO, the only time Octave is really a good choice is if you have to run existing Matlab, and even then, it rarely works, as Octave is missing many of Matlab's features.)

I can't respond to that except by saying that it doesn't match my experience, not at all.

R and Octave are being used by different groups of people. R is designed for statistical analysis and it is being used very heavily by statisticians. Octave seems to be favored by engineers and some physical scientists. I expect that there are many more people using one or the other of the two programs, but not as many people use both. It's funny what happens next. People who use primarily one of the two will become quite certain that the program they use is superior in particular ways to the one they do not use, but this is only because they don't know the features of the other program! I see this frequently with emacs v. vi or with bash v. tcsh.

For me, the world is best with both R and Octave. I intend to make more use of R in the coming months and I recently bought the GNU manuals for R and Octave on I am encouraging students to learn R and to avoid SAS. I just got back from a scientific meeting (genetic epidemiology) where I presented results of work done in Octave. Octave performed amazingly well on my PC under Cygwin - everyone was very impressed with the speed with which it performed my simulations. It really surprised me though I use it all the time.


Michael B. Miller, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Division of Epidemiology and Community Health
and Institute of Human Genetics
University of Minnesota

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