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The Net Takeaway: R: They just left the interface out...


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R: They just left the interface out... · 04/06/2004 10:06 AM, Analysis

A nice mention of the problems with R vs. well, everyone else by Nate.

I’ve tried R a million times, and every time, I have to drop it. I spend too much time trying to figure out how to get R to do simple things, things that are a single command in SPSS or SAS.

It not just a matter of a GUI (or the lack thereof). Its that no one has written docs from the 3 main user types:

It does have docs for the standard open-source groups:

It also has the requisite “Smart jerks who you admire for their smarts even as you wince at their lack of civility”. Spend 5 minutes on either Dev or User list and you quickly discover a user community which dislikes novices intently. (Yes, that’s a broad, sweeping generalization, but… There are many nice folks on the Dev and User lists, but it only takes a few jerks to make a newbie want to go elsewhere. The jerks also seem to jump on posters faster than the nice people. Funny how that seems to happen so often in online forums…)

Note that I have not one complaint about the capabilities! R can do pretty much anything. Analyses I’ve never heard of have multiple implementations, a great learning tool. They say the journey is the fun part, so I guess I should enjoy my attempts to climb Mount R and get to the good stuff… but I don’t.

We really need a SPSS user’s guide to R or something like that. This would address the 3 groups above, giving

In fact, for almost every programming language/tool popular today, we benefit from the cookbook, the design pattern book, and the “how to get things done” FAQ file. I find all of this missing for R. What’s there is a great start, but its just not enough for lazy ol’ me.

And before anyone complains,

One more point: If I hear one more person say “Its Open Source, get over it. Devs provide their own docs for Devs, so Users should provide their own docs as well. That’s what Open Source is all about”. Love the philosophy, but that what kills so many Open Source projects: They don’t invite users in, so no one can suggest those special ideas and enhancements that make a project grand, and then the Devs run out of interest, or code the project into a narrow niche.

Look at the great ideas on which are now abandoned. Why did Perl and Python grow? Because you don’t need to know how to code the C behind Perl to use it. And, lots of hand-holding books and docs were made to let even novices get started.

I want R to become the tool we look to and say “Oh, you could try SPSS, but why would you?” Right now, I find myself saying that about R.

* * *


  1. I might note that Gary King of Harvard has written a decent program called Zelig that makes doing the basic models a hell of a lot easier, in addition to making it easier to do some graphic output. R’s still not as easy as SPSS or even Stata (oh, that I could afford to upgrade to Stata 8), but Zelig makes it a fair bit easier.
    Nate    Apr 6, 09:58 PM    #

  2. Thanks for pointing that out; I had not seen that one before. It looks pretty handy, and I will install and comment on it soon…
    Michael Wexler    Apr 7, 10:21 AM    #

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