On the acceptance of R

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Some history and a prediction.


A discussion broke out on the R-help mailing list in January 2006 about a technical report put out by the statistical computing group at UCLA.  The report in question talked mainly about SAS, SPSS and Stata.  It talked briefly — and not especially positively — about R.  Someone accused it of damning R with faint praise.  It might not be a surprise that the R community had a somewhat higher opinion of R.

You can find that thread with a web search like:

"A comment about R" 2006

There was a mechanism of  creating official comments to the technical report.  I edited material from the thread, got some additional views privately, and added a few flourishes myself to produce: R Relative to Statistical Packages (pdf).

That was 7 years ago.  There were on the order of 600 packages on CRAN.


Things are different now.  As of St. Paddy’s Day there were 4399 packages on CRAN.  If other major repositories are included, then the number of packages exceeds 6000.

It is unimaginable for something similar to happen in academia now.  In particular, the UCLA site no longer has the technical report available — instead there are substantial resources about R.  In academia, R is highly accepted, and — in some fields — very dominant.

In commercial companies R is in a similar position now to how it was in academia in 2006.


Which leads to my prediction: In the year 2020 R will be a dominant force in commerce similar to how it currently dominates in academia.

I’m not thinking the transition is automatic.  In academia R’s competition was SAS, SPSS, Stata, Minitab and some others.  In commerce R’s competition is primarily Excel.

That’s a whole different sort of competition.  Those addicted to spreadsheets aren’t likely to give them up easily.  But there are signs of cracks in the spreadsheet wall.

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