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R programming language gaining ground on traditional statistics packages

Joab Jackson | Aug. 21, 2014
The R programming language is quickly gaining popular ground against the traditional statistics packages such as SPSS, SAS and MATLAB, at least according to one data statistician who teaches the language.

That implementations of R are available as open source -- and can be downloaded by researchers starting on a project at no cost -- may be a factor in its popularity, said Al Hilwa, who covers enterprise software development for IT analyst firm IDC.

"Like many open source projects with active communities, R has gotten better with time," Hilwa wrote in an email. "I think what we are seeing are trends that are long in motion. Acquiring of developer skills around programming languages takes time and so what we are seeing is a delayed effect reflected in actual use data."

In his study, Muenchen did not distinguish between which R distributions users cited, which could be Revolution Analytics' open-source or enterprise editions, or the open-source volunteer-led R Project.

Other indicators also seem to point to the growing popularity of R, Muenchen noted. The number of job postings on Indeed.com requiring R skills has surpassed those asking for SPSS experience, though they are still fewer than the number of ads calling for SAS expertise. The number of books and discussion forums devoted to R exceeds those for either SAS or SPSS.

Hilwa also noted that there is increasing demand for workers with statistical and data analysis skills in general, which can be seen as the "tide that lifts all boats in this ecosystem of languages," he wrote.

 

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