Picking a gui interface for R

February 3, 2014
By

(This article was first published on Educate-R - R, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

Recently I decided to switch statistical programs used introductory statistics course for masters students that I teach at the University of Arkansas. Historically this course has been taught with SPSS, but I am attempting the switch to R this semester. Most students in this class have never used a statistical program before and have no programming background/interest. As a result, I did not want to have them learn statistics and the R language in the same semester and have them using R with a gui interface. The two primary gui systems/packages I explored were the Deducer package and the Rcmdr package. Here are my initial thoughts on the switch.

Which gui to use?

This ultimately comes down to personal preference, however below I've highlighted my intial thoughts on pros/cons of each package.

Deducer

Pros:
- Shows syntax of commands run
- Uses ggplot2 for plots
- Very interactive menu structures
- Simple condensed data loading
Cons:
- Uses Java
- Menus differ from PC to MAC
- rJava package can be troublesome (not exactly sure why)

Rcmdr

Pros:
- Shows syntax of commands run
- Does not use Java
- Very similar data menus across each OS
- Opens a new window so students know when it has loaded correctly
Cons:
- Uses base graphics
- Data loading structures not integrated


In general I prefer the Deducer package as it uses ggplot2 and has a more unified menu structure. For example, there are not differing menu options for loading data like in Rcmdr. Instead, Deducer has a single load data menu where it is possible to load many types of data including csv, txt, rda, etc. This is helpful for students who are not very familiar with differing file types and I do not have to spend 5 minutes explaining it. Deducer also uses ggplot2 for its graphics which I enjoy much more than base graphics. In my opinion they look better and the syntax is ultimately easier to create high quality graphics.

My biggest complaint of the Deducer package is that it uses Java. This is one more thing that the user needs to install and with my class we have had trouble on a few computers getting the rJava package to work properly. There was also the widely talked about Java exploit that may or may not have been fixed. Lastly, the differing look of Deducer has made it more difficult for me as I need to have two explanations, one for those on a PC and another for those on a Mac. Although they are very similar, it has been difficult for me as I do not use a Mac or have access to one for testing purposes. Therefore, I end up figuring out differences on the fly.

Concluding thoughts

I hope to write more about my experiences using both gui systems for my class, but upon initial inspection of them now I definitely prefer Deducer. The package just has not completely won me over as little problems have made me use both packages in my class so far, primarily due to the error loading the rJava package.

Does anyone else have experience using one or the other in a class before? I'd enjoy hearing any stories using these or different gui systems for R.

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