Advanced Analytics Software’s Most Important Feature? Gartner Says it’s VCF

The IT research firm, Gartner, Inc. has released its February 2016 report, Magic Quadrant for Advanced Analytics Platforms. The report’s main graph shows the completeness of each company’s vision plotted against its ability to achieve that vision (Figure 1.) I include this plot each year in my continuously updated article, The Popularity of Data Analysis Software, along with a brief summary of its major points. The full report is always interesting reading and, if you act fast, you can download it free from RapidMiner’s web site.

Figure 1. Gartner Magic Quadrant for 2016. What’s missing?

If you compare Figure 1 to last year’s plot (Figure 2), you’ll see a few noteworthy changes, but you’re unlikely to catch the radical shift that has occurred between the two. Both KNIME and RapidMiner have increased their scores slightly in both dimensions. KNIME is now rated as having the greatest vision within the Leaders quadrant. Given how much smaller KNIME Inc. is than IBM and SAS Institute, that’s quite an accomplishment. Dell has joined them in the Leaders quadrant through its acquisition of Statistica. Microsoft increased its completeness of vison, in part by buying Revolution Analytics. Accenture joined the category through its acquisition of i4C Analytics. LavaStorm and Megaputer entered the plot in 2016, though Gartner doesn’t specify why. These are all interesting changes, but they don’t represent the biggest change of all.

The watershed change between these two plots is hinted at by two companies that are missing in the more recent one: Salford Systems and Tibco. The important thing is why they’re missing. Gartner excluded them this year, “…due to not satisfying the [new] visual composition framework [VCF] inclusion criteria.” VCF is the term they’re using to describe the workflow (also called streams or flowcharts) style of Graphical User Interface (GUI). To be included in the 2016 plot, companies must have offered software that uses the workflow GUI. What Garter is saying is, in essence, advanced analytics software that does not use the workflow interface is not worth following!


Figure 2. Gartner Magic Quadrant for 2015.

Though the VCF terminology is new, I’ve long advocated its advantages (see What’s Missing From R). As I described there:

“While menu-driven interfaces such as R Commander, Deducer or SPSS are somewhat easier to learn, the flowchart interface has two important advantages. First, you can often get a grasp of the big picture as you see steps such as separate files merging into one, or several analyses coming out of a particular data set. Second, and more important, you have a precise record of every step in your analysis. This allows you to repeat an analysis simply by changing the data inputs. Instead, menu-driven interfaces require that you switch to the programs that they create in the background if you need to automatically re-run many previous steps. That’s fine if you’re a programmer, but if you were a good programmer, you probably would not have been using that type of interface in the first place!”

As a programming-oriented consultant who works with many GUI-oriented clients, I also appreciate the blend of capabilities that workflow GUIs provide. My clients can set up the level of analysis they’re comfortable with, and if I need to add some custom programming, I can do so in R or Python, blending my code right into their workflow. We can collaborate, each using his or her preferred approach. If my code is widely applicable, I can put it into distribution as a node icon that anyone can drag into their workflow diagram.

The Gartner report offers a more detailed list of workflow features. They state that such interfaces should support:

  • Interactive design of workflows from data sources to visualization, modeling and deployment using dragging and dropping of building blocks on a visual pallet
  • Ability to parameterize the building blocks
  • Ability to save workflows into files and libraries for later reuse
  • Creation of new building blocks by composing sets of building blocks
  • Creation of new building blocks by allowing a scripting language (R, JavaScript, Python and others) to describe the functionality of the input/output behavior

I would add the ability to color-code and label sections of the workflow diagram. That, combined with the creation of metanodes or supernodes (creating one new building block from a set of others) help keep a complex workflow readable.


If Gartner’s shift in perspective resulted in them dropping only two companies from their reports, does this shift really amount to much of a change? Hasn’t it already been well noted and dealt with? No, the plot is done at the company level. If it were done at the product level, many popular packages such as SAS (with its default Display Manager System interface) and SPSS Statistics would be excluded.

The fields of statistics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence have been combined psychologically by their inclusion into broader concepts such as advanced analytics or data science. But the separation of those fields is still quite apparent in the software tools themselves. Tools that have their historical roots in machine learning and artificial intelligence are far more likely to have implemented workflow GUIs.  However, while they have a more useful GUI, they tend to still lack a full array of common statistical methods. For example, KNIME and RapidMiner can only handle very simple analysis of variance problems. When such companies turn their attention to this deficit, the more statistically oriented companies will face much stiffer completion. Recent versions of KNIME have already made progress on this front.

SPSS Modeler can access the full array of SPSS Statistics routines through its dialog boxes, but the two products lack full integration. Most users of SPSS Statistics are unaware that IBM offers control of their software through a better interface. IBM could integrate the Modeler interface into SPSS Statistics so that all its users would see that interface when they start the software. Making their standard menu choices could begin building a workflow diagram. SPSS Modeler could still be sold as a separate package, one that added features to SPSS Statistics’ workflow interface.

A company that is on the cutting edge of GUI design is SAS Institute. Their SAS Studio is, to the best of my knowledge, unique in its ability to offer four major ways of working. Its program editor lets you type code from memory using features far advanced from their aging Display Manager System. It also offers a “snippets” feature that lets you call up code templates for common tasks and edit them before execution. That still requires some programming knowledge, but users can depend less on their memory. The software also has a menu & dialog approach like SPSS Statistics, and it even has a workflow interface. Kudos to SAS Institute for providing so much flexibility! When students download the SAS University Edition directly from SAS Institute, this is the only interface they see.

SAS Studio currently supports a small, but very useful, percent of SAS’ overall capability. That needs to be expanded to provide as close to 100% coverage as possible. If the company can eventually phase out their many other GUIs (Enterprise Guide, Enterprise Miner, SAS/Assist, Display Manager System, SAS/IML Studio, etc.), merging that capability into SAS Studio, they might finally earn a reputation for ease of use that they have lacked.

In conclusion, the workflow GUI has already become a major type of interface for advanced analytics. My hat is off to the Gartner Group for taking a stand on encouraging its use. In the coming years, we can expect to see the machine learning/AI software adding statistical features, and the statistically oriented companies continuing to add more to their workflow capabilities until the two groups meet in the middle. The companies that get there first will have a significant strategic advantage.


Thanks to Jon Peck for suggestions that improved this post.

Posted in Analytics, R, SAS, SPSS, Statistics, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Business Intelligence and Data Science Groups in East Tennessee

The Knoxville area has four groups that help people learn about business intelligence and data science.

The Knoxville R Users Group (KRUG) focuses on the free and open source R language. Each meeting begins with a bit of socializing followed by a series of talks given by its members or guests. The talks range from brief five-minute demos of an R function to 45-minute in-depth coverage of some method of analysis. Beginning tutorials on R are occasionally offered as well. Membership is free of charge, but donations are accepted to defray the cost of snacks and web site maintenance. You can join at the KRUG web site.

Data Science KNX is a group of people interested in the broad field of data science. Members range from beginners to experts. As their web site states, their “…aim is to maintain a forum for connecting people around data science specific topics such as tutorials and their applications, local success stories, discussions of new technologies, and best practices. All are welcome to attend, network, and present!” You can go here to join at the Data Science KNX web site. Membership is free, though the group gladly accepts donations to help defray the costs of the pizza and beer provided at their meetings.

The East Tennessee Business Intelligence Users Group is “committed to learning, sharing, and advancing the field of Business Intelligence in the East Tennessee region.” They meet several times each year featuring speakers who demonstrate business intelligence software such as IBM’s Watson and Microsoft’s PowerBI. Meetings are at lunch and a meal is provided by sponsoring companies. Membership is free, and so is the lunch! You can join the group at their web site.

Each spring and fall, The University of Tennessee’s Department of Business Analytics and Statistics offers a Business Analytics Forum that features speakers from both industry and academia. The group consists of non-competing companies for whom business analytics is an important part of their operation. Forum members work together to share best practices and to develop more effective strategies. The forum is open to paid members only and you can join on their registration page.

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Using Discussion Forum Activity to Estimate Analytics Software Market Share

I’m finally getting around to overhauling the Discussion Forum Activity section of The Popularity of Data Analysis Software. To save you the trouble of reading all 43 pages, I’m posting just this section below.

Discussion Forum Activity

Another way to measure software popularity is to see how many people are helping one another use each package or language. While such data is readily available, it too has its problems. Menu-driven software like SPSS or workflow-driven software such as KNIME are quite easy to use and tend to generate fewer questions. Software controlled by programming requires the memorization of many commands and requiring more support. Even within languages, some are harder to use than others, generating more questions (see Why R is Hard to Learn).

Another problem with this type of data is that there are many places to ask questions and each has its own focus. Some are interested in a classical statistics perspective while others have a broad view of software as general-purpose programming languages. In recent years, companies have set up support sites within their main corporate web site, further splintering the places you can go to get help. Usage data for such sites is not readily available.

Another problem is that it’s not as easy to use logic to focus in on specific types of questions as it was with the data from job advertisements and scholarly articles discussed earlier. It’s also not easy to get the data across time to allow us to study trends.  Finally, the things such sites measure include: software group members (a.k.a. followers), individual topics (a.k.a. questions or threads), and total comments across all topics (a.k.a. total posts). This makes combining counts across sites problematic.

Two of the biggest sites used to discuss software are LinkedIn and Quora. They both display the number of people who follow each software topic, so combining their figures makes sense. However, since the sites lack any focus on analytics, I have not collected their data on general purpose languages like Java, MATLAB, Python or variants of C. The results of data collected on 10/17/2015 are shown here:


We see that R is the dominant software and that moving down through SAS, SPSS, and Stata results in a loss of roughly half the number of people in each step. Lavastorm follows Stata, but I find it odd that there was absolutely zero discussion of Lavastorm on Quora. The last bar that you can even see on this plot is the 62 people who follow Minitab. All the ones below that have tiny audiences of fewer than 10.

Next let’s examine two sites that focus only on statistical questions: Talk Stats and Cross Validated. They both report the number of questions (a.k.a. threads) for a given piece of software, allowing me to total their counts:


We see that R has a 4-to-1 lead over the next most popular package, SPSS. Stata comes in at 3rd place, followed by SAS. The fact that SAS is in fourth place here may be due to the fact that it is strong in data management and report writing, which are not the types of questions that these two sites focus on. Although MATLAB and Python are general purpose languages, I include them here because the questions on this site are within the realm of analytics. Note that I collected data on as many packages as were shown in the previous graph, but those not shown have a count of zero. Julia appears to have a count of zero due to the scale of the graph, but it actually had 5 questions on Cross Validated.

If you found this interesting, you can read about the results of other surveys and several other ways to measure software popularity here.

Is your organization still learning R?  I’d be happy to stop by and help. I also have a workshop, R for SAS, SPSS and Stata Users, on If you found this post useful, I invite you to follow me on Twitter.

Posted in Analytics, R, SAS, SPSS, Stata, Uncategorized | 28 Comments

Rexer Analytics Survey Results

Rexer Analytics has released preliminary results showing the usage of various data science tools. I’ve added the results to my continuously-updated article, The Popularity of Data Analysis Software. For your convenience, the new section is repeated below.

Surveys of Use

One way to estimate the relative popularity of data analysis software is though a survey. Rexer Analytics conducts such a survey every other year, asking a wide range of questions regarding data science (previously referred to as data mining by the survey itself.) Figure 6a shows the tools that the 1,220 respondents reported using in 2015.

Figure 6a. Analytics tools used.

Figure 6a. Analytics tools used by respondents to the Rexer Analytics Survey. In this view, each respondent was free to check multiple tools.

We see that R has a more than 2-to-1 lead over the next most popular packages, SPSS Statistics and SAS. Microsoft’s Excel Data Mining software is slightly less popular, but note that it is rarely used as the primary tool. Tableau comes next, also rarely used as the primary tool. That’s to be expected as Tableau is principally a visualization tool with minimal capabilities for advanced analytics.

The next batch of software appears at first to be all in the 15% to 20% range, but KNIME and RapidMiner are listed both in their free versions and, much further down, in their commercial versions. These data come from a “check all that apply” type of question, so if we add the two amounts, we may be over counting. However, the survey also asked,  “What one (my emphasis) data mining / analytic software package did you use most frequently in the past year?”  Using these data, I combined the free and commercial versions and plotted the top 10 packages again in figure 6b. Since other software combinations are likely, e.g. SAS and Enterprise Miner; SPSS Statistics and SPSS Modeler; etc. I combined a few others as well.

Figure 6b. The percent of survey respondents who checked each package as their primary tool.

Figure 6b. The percent of survey respondents who checked each package as their primary tool. Note that free and commercial versions of KNIME and RapidMiner are combined. Multiple tools from the same company are also combined. Only the top 10 are shown.

In this view we see R even more dominant, with over a 3-to-1 advantage compared to the software from IBM SPSS and SAS Institute. However, the overall ranking of the top three didn’t change. KNIME however rises from 9th place to 4th. RapidMiner rises as well, from 10th place to 6th. KNIME has roughly a 2-to-1 lead over RapidMiner, even though these two packages have similar capabilities and both use a workflow user interface. This may be due to RapidMiner’s move to a more commercially oriented licensing approach. For free, you can still get an older version of RapidMiner or a version of the latest release that is quite limited in the types of data files it can read. Even the academic license for RapidMiner is constrained by the fact that the company views “funded activity” (e.g. research done on government grants) the same as commercial work. The KNIME license is much more generous as the company makes its money from add-ons that increase productivity, collaboration and performance, rather than limiting analytic features or access to popular data formats.

If you found this interesting, you can read about the results of other surveys and several other ways to measure software popularity here.

Is your organization still learning R?  I’d be happy to stop by and help. I also have a workshop, R for SAS, SPSS and Stata Users, on If you found this post useful, I invite you to follow me on Twitter.

Posted in Analytics, R, SAS, SPSS | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

Goals for the New R Consortium

by Bob Muenchen

The recently-created R Consortium consists of companies that are deeply involved in R such as RStudio, Microsoft/Revolution Analytics, Tibco, and others. The Consortium’s goals include advancing R’s worldwide promotion and support, encouraging user adoption, and improving documentation and tools. Those are admirable goals and below I suggest a few specific examples that the consortium might consider tackling.

R Consortium

As I work with various organizations to help them consider migrating to R, common concerns are often raised. With thousands of packages to choose from, where do I start? Do packages go through any reliability testing? What if I start using a package and its developer abandons it?  These, and others, are valid concerns that the R Consortium could address.

Choosing Packages

New R users face a daunting selection of thousands of packages. Some guidance is provided by CRAN’s Task Views. In R’s early years, this area was quite helpful in narrowing down a package search. However, R’s success has decreased the usefulness of Task Views. For example, say a professor asks a grad student to look into doing a cluster analysis. In SAS, she’ll have to choose among seven procedures. When considering the Task View on the subject, she’ll be presented with 105 choices in six categories!  The greater selection is one of R’s strengths, but to encourage the adoption of R by a wider community it would be helpful to list the popularity of each package. The more popular packages are likely to be the most useful.

R functions are integrated into other software such as Alteryx, IBM SPSS Statistics, KNIME, and RapidMiner. Some are also called from R user interfaces such as Deducer, R Commander, and RATTLE. Within R, some packages depend on others, adding another vote of confidence. The R Consortium could help R users by documenting these various measures of popularity, perhaps creating an overall composite score.


People often ask how they can trust the accuracy (or reliability) of software that is written by a loosely knit group of volunteers, when there have even been notable lapses in the accuracy of commercial software developed by corporate teams [1]. Base R and its “recommended packages” are very well tested, and the details of the procedures are documented in The R Software Development Life Cycle. That set of software is substantial, the equivalent of Base SAS + GRAPH + STAT + ETS + IML + Enterprise Miner (excluding GUIs, Structural Equation Modeling, and Multiple Imputation, which are in add-on packages). Compared to SPSS, it’s the rough equivalent to IBM SPSS Base + Statistics + Advanced Stat. + Regression + Forecasting + Decision Trees + Neural Networks + Bootstrapping.

While that set is very capable, it still leaves one wondering about all the add-on packages. Performing accuracy tests is very time consuming work [2-5] and even changing the options on the same routine can affect accuracy [6].  Increasing the confidence that potential users have in R’s accuracy would help to increase the use of the software, one of the Consortium’s goals. So I suggest that they consider ways to increase the reliability testing of functions that are outside the main R packages.

Given the vast number of R packages available, it would be impossible for the Consortium to perform such testing on all packages. However, for widely used packages, it might behoove the Consortium to use its resources to develop such tests themselves. A web page that referenced Consortium testing, as well as testing from any source, would be helpful.

Package Longevity

If enough of a package’s developers got bored and moved on or, more dramatically, were hit by the proverbial bus, development would halt. Base R plus recommended packages has the whole R Development Core Team backing them up. Other packages are written by employees of companies. In such cases, it is unclear whether the packages are supported by the company or by the individual developer(s).

Using the citation function will list a package’s developers. The more there are, the better chance there is of someone taking over if the lead developer moves on. The Consortium could develop a rating system that would provide guidance along these lines. Nothing lasts forever, but knowing the support level a package has would be of great help when choosing which to use.

Encourage Support and Use of Key Generic Functions

Some fairly new generic functions play a key role in making R easier to use. For example, David Robinson’s broom package contains functions that translate the output of modeling functions from list form into data frames, making output management much easier. Other packages, including David Dahl’s xtable and Philip Leifeld’s texreg, do a similar translation to present the output in nicely formatted forms for publishing. Those developers have made major contributions to R by writing all the methods themselves. The R Consortium could develop a list of such functions and encourage other developers to add methods to them, when appropriate. Such widely applicable functions could also benefit from having the R Consortium support their development, assuring longer package longevity and wider use.

Output to Microsoft Word

R has the ability to create beautiful output in almost any format you would like, but it takes additional work.  Its competition, notably SAS and SPSS, let you choose the font and full formatting of your output tables at installation. From then on, any time you want to save output to a word processor, it’s a simple cut & paste operation. SPSS even formats R output to fully formatted tables, unlike any current R IDEs. Perhaps the R Consortium could pool the resources needed to develop this kind of output. If so, it would be a key aspect of their goal of speeding R’s adoption. (I do appreciate the greater power of LaTeX and the ease of use of knitr and Rmarkdown, but they’ll never match the widespread use of Word.)

Graphical User Interface

Programming offers the greatest control over an analysis, but many researchers don’t analyze data often enough to become good programmers; many simply don’t like programming. Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) help such people get their work done more easily. The traditional menu-based systems, such as R Commander or Deducer, make one-time work easy, but they don’t offer a way to do repetitive projects without relying on the code that non-programmers wish to avoid.

Workflow-based GUIs are also easy to use and, more importantly, they save all the steps as a flowchart. This allows you to check your work and repeat it on another data set simply by updating the data import node(s) and clicking “execute.” To take advantage of this approach, Microsoft’s Revolution R Enterprise integrates into Alteryx and KNIME, and Tibco’s Enterprise Runtime for R integrates into KNIME as well. Alteryx is a commercial package, and KNIME is free and open source on the desktop. While both have commercial partners, each can work with the standard community version of R as well.

Both packages contain many R functions that you can control with a dialog box. Both also allow R programmers to add a programming node in the middle of the workflow.  Those nodes can be shared, enabling an organization to get the most out of both their programming and non-programming analysts. Both systems need to add more R nodes to be considered general-purpose R GUIs, but they’re making fairly rapid progress on that front. In each system, it takes less than an hour to add a node to control a typical R function.

The R Consortium could develop a list of recommended steps for developers to consider. One of these steps could be adding nodes to such GUIs. Given the open source nature of R, encouraging the use of the open source version of KNIME would make the most sense. That would not just speed the adoption of R, it would enable its adoption by the large proportion of analysts who prefer not to program. For the more popular packages, the Consortium could consider using their own resources to write such nodes.


The creation of the R Consortium offers an intriguing opportunity to expand the use of R around the world. I’ve suggested several potential goals for the Consortium, including ways to help people choose packages, increase reliability testing, rating package support levels, increasing visibility of key generic functions, adding support for Word, and making R more accessible through stronger GUI support. What else should the R Consortium consider?  Let’s hear your ideas in the comments section below.

Is your organization still learning R?  I’d be happy to stop by and help. I also have a workshop, R for SAS, SPSS and Stata Users, on If you found this post useful, I invite you to follow me on Twitter.


Thanks to Drew Schmidt and Michael Berthold for their suggestions that improved this post.


  1. Micah Altman (2002), A Review of JMP 4.03 With Special Attention to its Numerical Accuracy, The American Statistician, 56:1, 72-75, DOI: 10.1198/000313002753631402
  2. D. McCullough (1998), Assessing the Reliability of Statistical Software: Part I, The American Statistician, 52:4, 358-366
  3. D. McCullough (1999), Assessing the Reliability of Statistical Software: Part II, The American Statistician, 53:2, 149-159
  4. Kellie B. Keeling, Robert J. Pavur (2007), A comparative study of the reliability of nine statistical software packages, Computational Statistics & Data Analysis, Vol. 51, Issue 8, pp. 3811-3831
  5. Oluwartotimi O. Odeh, Allen M. Featherstone and Jason S. Bergtold (2010), Reliability of Statistical Software, American Journal of Agricultural Economics,doi: 1093/ajae/aaq068
  6. Jason S. Bergtold, Krishna Pokharel and Allen Featherstone (2015), Selected Paper prepared for presentation at the 2015 Agricultural & Applied Economics Association and Western Agricultural Economics Association Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA, July 26-28
Posted in R | 42 Comments

Free Webinar: Intro to SparkR

Are you interested in combining the power of R and Spark?  An “Intro to SparkR”
webinar will take place on July 15, 2015 at 10 am California time. Everyone is welcome
to attend.

– What is SparkR?
– Recent improvements to SparkR
– SparkR Roadmap
– Live Demo
– Q & A

Shivaram Venkataraman, Co-author of SparkR

Duration: 45-60 minutes

Cost: $0

Location: Internet


Posted in Analytics, R, Statistics | 14 Comments

Estimating Analytics Software Market Share by Counting Books

Below is the latest update to The Popularity of Data Analysis Software.


The number of books published on each software package or language reflects its relative popularity. offers an advanced search method which works well for all the software except R and the general-purpose languages such as Java, C, and MATLAB. I did not find a way to easily search for books on analytics that used such general purpose languages, so I’ve excluded them in this section.

The advanced search configuration that I used was (using SAS as an example):

Title: SAS -excerpt -chapter -changes -articles 
Subject: Computers & Technology
Condition: New
Format: All formats
Publication Date: After January, 2000

The “title” parameter allowed me to focus the search on books that included the software names in their titles. Other books may use a particular software in their examples, but they’re impossible to search for easily.  SAS has many manuals for sale as individual chapters or excerpts. They contain “chapter” or “excerpt” in their title so I excluded them using the minus sign, e.g. “-excerpt”. SAS also has short “changes and enhancements” booklets that the developers of other packages release only in the form of flyers and/or web pages, so I excluded “changes” as well. Some software listed brief “articles” which I also excluded. I did the search on June 1, 2015, and I excluded excerpts, chapters, changes, and articles from all searches.

“R” is a difficult term to search for since it’s used in book titles to indicate Registered Trademark as in “SAS(R)”. Therefore I verified all the R books manually.

The results are shown in Table 1, where it’s clear that a very small number of analytics software packages dominate the world of book publishing. SAS has a huge lead with 576 titles, followed by SPSS with 339 and R with 240. SAS and SPSS both have many versions of the same book or manual still for sale, so their numbers are both inflated as a result. JMP and Hadoop both had fewer than half of R’s count and then Minitab and Enterprise Miner had fewer then half again as many. Although I obtained counts on all 27 of the domain-specific (i.e. not general-purpose) analytics software packages or languages shown in Figure 2a, I cut the table off at software that had 8 or fewer books to save space.

Software        Number of Books 
SAS                  576
SPSS Statistics      339
R                    240    [Corrected from: 172]
JMP                   97
Hadoop                89
Stata                 62
Minitab               33
Enterprise Miner      32

Table 1. The number of books whose titles contain the name of each software package.

[Correction: Thanks to encouragement from Bernhard Lehnert (see comments below) the count for R has been corrected from 172 to the more accurate 240.]

Posted in Analytics, R, SAS, SPSS, Stata, Statistics | 16 Comments

R #1 by Wide Margin in Latest KDnuggets Poll

The results of the latest KDnuggets Poll on software for Analytics, Big Data and Data Mining are out, and R has moved into the #1 position by a wide margin. I’ve updated the Surveys of Use section of The Popularity of Data Analysis Software to include a subset of those results, which I include here:

…The results of a similar poll done by the web site in May of 2015 are shown in Figure 6b. This one shows R in first place with 46.9% of users reporting having used it for a real project. RapidMiner, SQL, and Python follow quite a bit lower with around 30% of users. Then at around 20% are Excel, KNIME and HADOOP. It’s interesting to see what has happened to two very similar tools, RapidMiner and KNIME. Both used to be free and open source. RapidMiner then adopted a commercial model, with an older version still free. KNIME kept its desktop version free and, likely as a result, its use has more than tripled over the last three years. SAS Enterprise Miner uses a very similar workflow interface, and its reported use, while low, has almost doubled over the last three years. Figure 6b only shows those packages that have at least 5% market share. KDnuggets’ original graph and detailed analysis are here.

KDnuggests 2015

Figure 6b. Percent of respondents that used each software in KDnuggets’ 2015 poll. Only software with 5% market share are shown. The % alone is the percent of tool voters that used only that tool alone. For example, only 3.6% of R users have used only R, while 13.7% of RapidMiner users indicated they used that tool alone. Years are color coded, with 2015, 2014, 2013 from top to bottom.

I invite you to follow me here or at If you’re interested in learning R, offers my 16-hour interactive workshop, R for SAS, SPSS and Stata Users for $25. That’s a monthly fee, but it definitely won’t take you a month to take it!  For students & academics, it’s $9. I also do R training on-site.

Posted in R, SAS, SPSS | 4 Comments

R Now Contains 150 Times as Many Commands as SAS

by Bob Muenchen

In my ongoing quest to analyze the world of analytics, I’ve updated the Growth in Capability section of The Popularity of Data Analysis Software. To save you the trouble of foraging through that tome, I’ve pasted it below.

Growth in Capability

The capability of analytics software has grown significantly over the years. It would be helpful to be able to plot the growth of each software package’s capabilities, but such data are hard to obtain. John Fox (2009) acquired them for R’s main distribution site, and I collected the data for later versions following his method.

Figure 9 shows the number of R packages on CRAN for the last version released in each year. The growth curve follows a rapid parabolic arc (quadratic fit with R-squared=.995). The right-most point is for version 3.1.2, the last version released in late 2014.


Figure 9. Number of R packages available on its main distribution site for the last version released in each year.

To put this astonishing growth in perspective, let us compare it to the most dominant commercial package, SAS. In version, 9.3, SAS contained around 1,200 commands that are roughly equivalent to R functions (procs, functions etc. in Base, Stat, ETS, HP Forecasting, Graph, IML, Macro, OR, QC). In 2014, R added 1,357 packages, counting only CRAN, or approximately 27,642 functions. During 2014 alone, R added more functions/procs than SAS Institute has written in its entire history.

Of course SAS and R commands solve many of the same problems, they are certainly not perfectly equivalent. Some SAS procedures have many more options to control their output than R functions do, so one SAS procedure may be equivalent to many R functions. On the other hand, R functions can nest inside one another, creating nearly infinite combinations. SAS is now out with version 9.4 and I have not repeated the arduous task of recounting its commands. If SAS Institute would provide the figure, I would include it here. While the comparison is far from perfect, it does provide an interesting perspective on the size and growth rate of R.

As rapid as R’s growth has been, these data represent only the main CRAN repository. R has eight other software repositories, such as Bioconductor, that are not included in
Figure 9. A program run on 5/22/2015 counted 8,954 R packages at all major repositories, 6,663 of which were at CRAN. (I excluded the GitHub repository since it contains duplicates to CRAN that I could not easily remove.) So the growth curve for the software at all repositories would be approximately 34.4% higher on the y-axis than the one shown in Figure 9. Therefore, the estimated total growth in R functions for 2014 was 28,260 * 1.344 or 37981.

As with any analysis software, individuals also maintain their own separate collections typically available on their web sites. However, those are not easily counted.

What’s the total number of R functions? The Rdocumentation site shows the latest counts of both packages and functions on CRAN, Bioconductor and GitHub. They indicate that there is an average of 20.37 functions per package. Since a program run on 5/22/2015 counted 8,954 R packages at all major repositories except GitHub, on that date there were approximately 182,393 total functions in R. In total, R has over 150 times as many commands as SAS.

I invite you to follow me here or at If you’re interested in learning R, offers my 16-hour interactive workshop, R for SAS, SPSS and Stata Users for $25. That’s a monthly fee, but it definitely won’t take you a month to take it!  For students & academics, it’s $9. I also do R training on-site.

Posted in Analytics, R, SAS, Statistics | 24 Comments

I’ve Been Replaced by an Analytics Robot

It was only a few years ago when the N.Y. Times declared my job “sexy”.  My old job title of statistician had sounded dull and stodgy, but then it became filled with exciting jargon: I’m a data scientist doing predictive analytics with (occasionally) big data. Three hot buzzwords in a single job description! However, in recent years, the powerful technology that has made my job so buzzworthy has me contemplating the future of the field. Computer programs that automatically generate complex models are becoming commonplace. Rob Hyndman’s forecast package for R, SAS Institite’s Forecast Studio, and IBM’s SPSS Forecasting offer the ability to generate forecasts that used to require years of training to develop. Similar tools are now available for other types of models as well.

Countless other careers have been eliminated due to new technology. The United States previously had over 70% of the population employed in farming and fewer than 2% are farmers today. Things change, people move on to other careers. The KDnuggests web site recently asked its readers, “When will most expert-level Predictive Analytics/Data Science tasks – currently done by human Data Scientists – be automated?” Fifty-one percent of the respondents – most of them data scientists themselves – estimated that this would happen within 10 years. Not all the respondents had such a dismal view though; 19% said that this would never happen.

My brain being analyzed by the machine that replaced my brain!

My brain being analyzed by the machine that replaced my brain! (Photograpy by Mike O’Neil)

If you had asked me in 1980 what would be the very last part of my job to be eliminated through automation, I probably would have said: brain wave analysis. It had far more steps involved than any other type of work I did. We were measuring the electrical activity of many parts of the brain, at many frequencies, thousands of times per second. An analysis that simply compared two groups would take many weeks of full-time work. Surprisingly, this was the first part of my job to be eliminated. However, our statistical consulting team supports many different departments, so I didn’t really notice when work stopped arriving from the EEG Lab. Years later I got a call from the new lab director offering to introduce me to my replacement: a “robot” named LORETA.

When I visited the lab, I was outfitted with the usual “bathing cap” full of electrodes. EEG paste (essentially K-Y jelly) was squirted into a hole in each electrode to ensure a good contact and the machine began recording my brain waves. I used bio-feedback to generate alpha waves which made a car go around a track in a simple video game. Your brain creates alpha waves when you get into a very relaxed, meditative state. Moments after I finished, LORETA had already analyzed my brain waves. “She” had done several weeks of analysis in just a few moments.

So that part of my career ended years ago, but I didn’t really notice it at the time. I was too busy using the time LORETA freed up to learn image analysis using ImageJ, text mining using WordStat and SAS Text Miner, and an endless variety of tasks using the amazing
R language. I’ve never had a moment when there wasn’t plenty of interesting new work to do.

There’s another aspect to my field that’s easy to overlook. When I began my career, 90% of the time was spent “battling” computers. They were incredibly difficult to operate. Today someone may send you a data file and you’ll be able to see the data moments after receiving it. In 1980 data arrived on tapes, and every computer manufacturer used a different tape format, each in numerous incompatible variations. Unless you had a copy of the program that created a tape, it might take days of tedious programming just to get the data off of it. Even asking the computer to run a program required error-prone Job Control Language. So from that perspective, easier-to-use computing technology has already eliminated 90% of what my job used to be. It wasn’t the interesting part of the job, so it was a change for the better.

Will the burgeoning field of data science eventually put itself out of business by developing a LORETA for every problem that needs to be solved? Will we just be letting our Star-Trek-class computers and robots do our work for us while we lounge around self-actualizing? Perhaps some day, but I doubt it will happen any time soon!

I invite you to follow me here or at If you’re interested in learning R, offers my 16-hour interactive workshop, R for SAS, SPSS and Stata Users for $25. That’s a monthly fee, but it definitely won’t take you a month to take it!  For students & academics, it’s $9. I also do R training on-site.

Posted in Analytics, Statistics, Uncategorized | 12 Comments