Typically if I am working with R I will have a lot of different windows open all at once. I’ll have the R Console (for Mac) of course and a text editor (Xcode or TextEdit), plus there will usually be some help windows to examine particular functions or a vignette in a PDF window, then there will be the plots I am working with and often a browser (Safari) pointing at the Bioconductor mailing lists or ggplot2 website for examples. It can be worse still if I’m using Adobe to edit graphics or interfacing R with another programming language…… Euuuurgggh. So though I have a wide Mac screen I still use Spaces to tile the windows across two or three desktops screens and spend a lot of time switching between screens copying and pasting from place to place.
The best thing that the new RStudio beta program does is rationalise many of these applications into a single Integrated Development Environment (IDE) so that your work is just a lot simpler and tidier. The RStudio window is split into 4 sectors with a text editor at the top-left and the basic R-Console bottom left. The top-right sector however is a tabbed window with both a descriptive workspace showing data, functions or values and their description(size, type, function options). Similarly the bottom right contains 4 tabs for File and Directory management, Plots, Package management, and a Help browser with navigation buttons. For this alone I’m sold on it [You had me at “hello”].
Yet it has a lot of other great features….which I shall now enumerate!
- It just downloads and installs as easy as click click click– and of course it automatically uses your already in use version of R.
- It’s a simple thing but it is nice to just hit a button in the text editor to execute code in the R-console rather than copy, paste, return, all day long.
- The text editor has a tab function completion tool that also shows mini function descriptions- though this is dependent of course on the packages loaded.
- The text editor has a proper colour scheme and highlights matching brackets with a blinking cursor- again simple and what you expect from any IDE but oh so useful and so long missing from R.
- My favourite feature is the resizable plot export window which show you the size resolution and appearance of the png you are exporting before you export it. R Plot options on size, resolution and plot type have always been a mystery to me so this is really welcome. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive!
There are a few minor niggles – but I mean minor (Bioconductor repository is not in the Package repository list, quotation marks in R-Console don’t automatically double up). In short everything about RStudio is elegantly designed- and I’m amazed that this is free software as it is at least as polished as many expensive IDE. I think this is because they are already able to build on many excellent features within R (i.e. the Help pages, Package menus, File and Directory movement) and just wrap them with a better interface. In any case great work…JJ Allaire, Joe Cheng, Josh Paulson and Paul DiCristina