[R-SIG-Mac] help: R on Mac's is "buggy", department reconsidering

Matthew Keller mckellercran at gmail.com
Thu Jan 31 17:40:42 CET 2008

Hello all,

I dread writing this because it may come across as being ungrateful to
the hard work of those (esp. Simon Urbanek) who have made an otherwise
fantastic R interface for the mac. Nevertheless...

I do most of my work in R using Aquamacs and had, until recently,
little interaction with the R Gui. People in my department (psychology
at CU Boulder) are mainly mac users, and a few of us (including the
chair and the statistics professors) are making a push to make our
department an "R" department (such that it is the package taught to
undergrads and grad students). I have been teaching a four week intro
to the R language this semester to students, postdocs, and faculty,
and the undergrad stats professors have taken the leap and are
teaching R in the undergrad stats classes this semester. So far so
good... but...

There is beginning to be a backlash, not from what I had expected ("R
is too user unfriendly"... this doesn't seem to come up!), but rather
that R is "too buggy" and crashes too often. Since switching to the R
Gui to teach this class, I myself have had R crash several times
(previously a rare occurrence when I used Aquamacs). I cannot find a
rhyme or reason to when it happens. The students/colleagues in my
class who are mac users also complain about it (none of the windows
users have). And this morning, an email went out from one of the
undergrad stats teachers who said much the same thing (see his email

Being one of the people who really pushed for this switch to R, I hate
to see it go down in flames because of this. I have considered trying
to teach using R via Aquamacs, but this presents its own set of

Does anyone out there who has experience with the R Gui for Macs have
any suggestions re making it more stable? Are there steps we can take
or advice we can give to students that would lessen the number of
crashes we are experiencing? Might the crashes be due to the newness
of the Leopard OS, etc?

I apologize for breaking the listserve rules - I have not given a good
explanation of the conditions under which these crashes occur. I could
try to get the students to document exactly when they happen and send
a summary back out to the list if this would be helpful.

I really want this (our department's switch to R) to go through, but I
am afraid the "bugginess of R" may be jeopardizing this. Any help
would be most appreciated. And as I said before, thank you to the
people who have selflessly spent their time making the R Gui - I
wouldn't even know where to start! Best,


<message from an undergrad stats prof here at CU> :

In the labs for my course, the R GUI has been buggy - i.e. will crash at
random times. I thought this had to do with using R Commander, but after
looking into it further, it has nothing to do with R Commander - when I
ran through some of the tutorial/homework for my course using the R GUI
(rather than R Commander) the crashes were still there.  I also thought
it might have to do with computing labs (perhaps installing ALL R
packages created the problem), but a quick survey in my course suggested
that people's personal apple computers are experiencing the same thing.
Greg and Matt Keller also mentioned to me that some of their students
were having issues with the R GUI on Mac OS X. As everyone knows, there
are A LOT of Mac users in the undergrad student body.

As far as I can tell (after discussing with Matt Keller), it has nothing
to do with the R "engine" - it's all about the R GUI interface (for
example, I've never had a problem submitting R jobs in pseudo-batch
mode).  I get slightly less buggy-ness on my Mac (intel dual-core,
Leopard), but there are still some issues.

Anyway, no real action items here other than to note that it appears to
be fairly common. The students are tolerating it, and I just keep
telling them that it's "free" and "free" always comes at a price. If
anyone has stumbled a more stable configuration, please let me know!

Matthew C Keller
Asst. Professor of Psychology
University of Colorado at Boulder

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