The RStudio IDE: first impressions are positive

Integrated development environments (IDEs) are software development tools, providing an interface that enables you to write, debug, run and view the output of your code.

Whether you need an IDE or find them useful depends very much on your own preferences and style of working. In my own case for example, I’ve tried both Eclipse and NetBeans, but I find them bloated and rather “overkill”. On the other hand, my LaTeX productivity shot up when I started to use Kile.

Most of my coding involves either Ruby or R, written using Emacs. For Ruby (including Rails), I use a bundled set of plugins named my_emacs_for_rails, which includes the Emacs Code Browser (ECB). For R, I occasionally use Emacs Speaks Statistics (ESS), but I’m just as likely to run code from a terminal or use the R console.

RStudio, released yesterday, is a new open-source IDE for R. It’s getting a lot of attention at R-bloggers and it’s easy to see why: this is open-source software development done right.

Before you even install and try out RStudio, there are plenty of promising signs:

  • A professional-looking and informative website
  • Good communication with users via Twitter, a blog and dedicated support
  • Dedication to open-source, with code available on Github
  • Cross-platform (Linux, Mac, Windows) with packages for multiple operating systems

For me, download and installation of the desktop version was a breeze, from the Ubuntu package. RStudio also comes in a client-server version (where the IDE is accessed via a web browser).

rstudio

RStudio IDE


On start-up, a nice clean IDE with panels for the console, plots/files and workspaces. This, for me, is the key to a good IDE: it should be uncluttered and as much as possible, simply resemble your current working environment but with the convenience of not having to move between windows. Even “Ctrl-L” works to clear the console; it’s the little touches that make me happy.

I’ve yet to try the server version of RStudio, or put the software fully through its paces but so far, I like what I see. It’s too early to say whether RStudio will convince me to make the switch from Emacs (not many things do) but you know, it’s nice to be able to write something positive about a software release for a change.