Desktop Survival Guide
by Graham Williams

Pros and Cons

On 7 January 2009 the New York Times carried a front page technology article on R where a SAS representative is quoted:

``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 misunderstanding put out there by vendors. R is a peer reviewed software product that any number of the worlds top statisticians have reviewed, and over the years, any issues will have been identified and rectified. On the other hand, SAS is a non-peer-reviewed software product with closed source (i.e., hidden) implementations of analytic methods that cannot be reproduced by others. Who would you trust when building aircraft engines!

A common reason for changing to R is to do with the bureaucratic processes that organisations impose upon users wanting software. Often, barriers have to be jumped in order to purchase software, doing due diligence in comparing what is available. With free open source software, we just get the software we want to use and if it doesn't server the purpose, we move on. For commercial purchases, if the software is found not to serve the purpose, we are stuck with it and have to make do. The decision making also turns into seconds, from months.

Let's start with some of the advantages with using R:

Whilst the advantages might flow from the pen with a great deal of enthusiasm, it is useful to note some of the disadvantages or weaknesses of R, even if they are perhaps transitory!

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