My friend Phil dropped me a note today about an article in the New York Times (registration required) about the R project. R is a language designed for data analysis, and it’s open source. It appears to compete against SAS, once of the most ubiquitous enterprise software packages out there, especially within academic institutions.
Now the SAS Institute is a local company (many years ago I did an OpenView installation for them) and it is one of the world’s largest privately held software companies, if not the largest. It consistantly ranks toward the top of the best places to work in the country.
But the somewhat isolated environment that SAS thrives in is now being challenged by open source. Of course, SAS is taking the old school approach of spreading Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Commenting on R:
“I think it 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.”
This is a common battle cry of the commercial software industry that no quality software can be created unless you pay for it (and of course, commercial software has always made flying much safer).
The fact that she’s willing to throw that out says to me that R is scaring SAS far more than they care to admit.