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Statistical Software and Windows Vista  Ed. Can Somebody Give Me Some Help Here? R: A Short Guide For The
Uninitiated By Dr. Rich Herrington,
Academic Computing and User Services, CITC
R is a
collection of public domain software projects, most of which
are licensed under the GNU
license (see CRAN).
Seasoned R users, in describing the R system to the uninitiated,
usually DO NOT describe R as a "statistical package", but rather
as a programming and development environment for statistical and
graphical data analysis. This declaration can have a rather
"offputting" sound to it; however, to characterize the R project (and
related projects, e.g. Omega Project)
as merely a "stat" package is at best an understatement, and at worst a
gross mischaracterization. R is NOT just an amazing
collection of modern data analysis and statistical modeling tools  it
is something more. The R project may have started as a "stone soup"
collaborative, but it has in more than 10 years time grown in
both size, and respectability within the communities of both academic
and practicing statisticians and computational scientists. For
example, a number of interdisciplinary conferences have been organized
to encourage the innovative use of R in training and research in the
computational sciences and, in general, various scientific
disciplines. Two notable conferences are the UseR!
and DSC conferences. Perhaps, to underscore the importance of
this initiative from the perspective of a wider audience, it is
interesting to point out that the UseR!
2006 was in part sponsored by such notable corporate entities as:
American Airlines, Merck, Wiley, Springer, Taylor and Francis
(among others), and (in my mind) most importantly the American
Statistical Association. To quote the UseR! 2006
website: "....the program will focus on: 
R as the `lingua franca' of data analysis
and statistical computing. 
providing a platform for R users to discuss
and exchange ideas how R can be used to do statistical computations,
data analysis, visualization and exciting applications in various
fields. 
giving
an overview of the new features of the rapidly evolving R
project......" Surely,
part of the excitement regarding R, is that the development of R has
NOT only focused on the theoretical and methodological aspects of data
analysis and graphical visualization. In other words, R is NOT
just a "statistical
package". R bears a strong resemblance to a scripting or
programming language that allows for operating system level activities.
For example, R could be thought of as having a strong resemblance
in its capabilities to such indispensable operating system tools such
as Perl or Bash. The R development team
(and thousands of contributors worldwide) have reused much of the GNU
utilities and applications to great advantage. Here is a listing
of a few notable examples:
This
discussion of the versatility of R for system level activities might
deemphasize the fact that the R system is primarily used for most
researchers as a data analysis and statistical modeling
tool. Although, in previous columns, I have
emphasized the
advantages in using R
in an educational setting for teaching elementary and advanced
statistics. There are far more user
contributed packages available covering the statistical
and graphical modeling of data (there are over a thousand user
contributed packages available
on the CRAN website). The "CRAN Task
View" of the package content on CRAN gives a thematic view of the
available packages and should help in locating information on packages
that are of primary interest:
Searching
Web Forums For Help Using R Q: What
About R and Windows Vista? R has a very well developed help system
which includes both windows compiled help files (CHM)
and browser based HTML
help files. Additionally, many high quality manuals
are provided. The user community contributes through
active forums
and user
contributed documents and tutorials . A number of websites
feature Google searching of the archives of the many available forum
websites (e.g. Jonathon
Baron's website). With so many packages, so much
functionality, and so many websites devoted to R, how is one to
find help and direction that one needs during an ongoing session?
Here, we will
demonstrate the use of a function within R that capitalizes on R's
ability to function as a web client. In an active R session we
search within the R help for the function "RSiteSearch":
First we use the help function to look for
the details on the "RsiteSearch"
function. Our question concerns any discussions that
might be related to the use of Windows Vista
with R. Searching on "Windows
Vista" opens the default web browser and returns search results
that are graded according to the degree of match with your query:
Lastly, I would like point out
that my experience with the R user community has been very positive.
Folks are quick to give tips and advice....but remember, as with most
computer oriented user forums RTFM is mandatory if you
wish to avoid being
flamed. Good luck in your forays into the world of R!.
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