[R] R on Linux - a primer

Kevin E. Thorpe kevin.thorpe at utoronto.ca
Tue Mar 16 13:32:13 CET 2010

Axel Urbiz wrote:
> Hi,
> I'm looking to move from Windows into a 64-bit Linux environment. Which is
> the best Linux Flavor to use within R? To install R on this environment, do
> I need to do any compiling?
> Thanks all!
> Axel.

You have received a number of useful replies.  I will add my 2 cents as 

First, make sure the distribution you choose does have a 64 bit version, 
since that is what you are looking for.  That said, allow me to share my 
Linux philosophy.

There are many distributions out there, each with their pluses and 
minuses.  For example, I used SuSE and OpenSuSE for awhile.  It was good 
in that things worked "out of the box," and it has (had?) a good 
sysadmin tool.  The problem was, if I needed to compile stuff, the tools 
for development were not included in the default install, so I had to 
search for them (a full install may have fixed this, but the full 
install was really bloated).

Most of the popular distributions come with some kind of sysadmin tool. 
  This is a useful thing for someone totally new to Linux.  It can be 
frustrating if you decide on a new distribution, since the sysadmin 
stuff will look different.

I eventually moved away from OpenSuSE because the life cycle of 
supported versions was quite short.  I don't like being forced to 
re-install a new OS just to get the latest patches.  So, I moved to 
Slackware (they have a 64 bit version now BTW).  I love it, but it's not 
for everybody.  The biggest obstacle to most people is that it has no 
sysadmin tool.  It is your responsibility to edit the config files in a 
text editor, if you want to fine-tune or customize things.  It is your 
responsibility to do dependency checking when installing packages (this 
is a plus in that when you install something and something breaks, you 
know what to blame).  This means you need to invest some time and learn 
a little more Linux than other distributions forces you to learn.  The 
full install is not bloated and comes with all the development tools 
needed.  I always compile R from source and it is easy.

make install

In closing (congratulations if you've read this far), there is probably 
not a wrong choice of Linux to run R on.  Choose a flavour of Linux that 
you like.  Many distributions have Live versions.  These are versions 
that boot and run from your DVD drive.  It's a good way to get a feeling 
for a particular distribution without installing anything.

Kevin E. Thorpe
Biostatistician/Trialist, Knowledge Translation Program
Assistant Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health
University of Toronto
email: kevin.thorpe at utoronto.ca  Tel: 416.864.5776  Fax: 416.864.3016

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