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The Future of Statistical Software: Proceedings of a Forum
core statistical capabilities; availability for a variety of hardware environments, with interfaces to common database, spreadsheet, word processing programs and ready availability of support along with complete, readable documentation; and lastly, ease of use for infrequent users) with one software. 3M has separate software for acceptance sampling, design of experiments, and so on. When going through an evaluation process, it is really hard to say what are core capabilities.
ERIC STELLWAGEN (Business Forecast Systems, Inc.): As a developer of software, we never hear from our users concerning the vast majority of products that go out the door. The reason is that we strive very hard to make them easy to use.
Now, we have fallen into the trap of having different products to aim at different markets. Our most sophisticated product, statistically speaking, is the one on which we get the greatest number of comments, such as, “It does not have this test,” or “Do you not know about this other technique?” But those comments are coming not from infrequent users, but from people who are using the product every day in their work.
The vast majority of our clients are the ones who once a month take a program off the shelf, do their sales forecast, and put it back on the shelf until next month. So the points expressed at this forum mirror exactly my experience.
PAUL TUKEY: I think we have to make a clear distinction between ease of use and oversimplification of the technique. I, too, believe in ease of use. For instance, one of the reasons I like S is that it has high-level objects that are easy to use, because they are self-describing. This means I do not have to be constantly reminding the system of all the attributes.
But there is the danger of mixing up ease of use with pretending that the world is simple when it is not. If naive people do naive analyses, e.g., fit a straight line when a straight line is not appropriate to fit, they may miss the things that are happening, because they are using Lotus. Frankly, Lotus is not all that easy to use for statistics. Try to program a regression in the Lotus programming language; it is horrendous.
This is not a plea for oversimplified statistics. Some may worry that if software is made too easy to use, it sweeps the hard problems under the rug and everybody is left to believe that the world is always simple, when that is not necessarily so.
ANDREW KIRSCH: I tried to mention the idea of ease of flow through the program as well as that of limiting the amount of output generated. But certainly there is a danger in limiting generated output if you reduce the amount of data generated to the point that you are vastly oversimplifying. So users must keep focused on those things that are most important, because this large laundry list of output, of potential things to consider and act on, does not provide much focus.
FORREST YOUNG: Returning to the topic of guidance, one way of making systems easier to use is to not “cripple” them by taking options out or perhaps hiding options, but to make suggestions to the user as to which options, what kinds of analyses, are the ones