This book comes from my experience teaching R in a variety of settings and through different stages of its (and my) development. Much of the material has been taken from by Statistical Computing class as well as the R Programming⁵ class I teach through Coursera.
I’m looking forward to teaching R to people as long as people will let me, and I’m interested in seeing how the next generation of students will approach it (and how my approach to them will
change). Overall, it’s been just an amazing experience to see the widespread adoption of R over the past decade. I’m sure the next decade will be just as amazing.
What is R?
This is an easy question to answer. R is a dialect of S.
What is S?
S is a language that was developed by John Chambers and others at the old Bell Telephone Laboratories, originally part of AT&T Corp. S was initiated in 1976⁷ as an internal statistical analysis
environment—originally implemented as Fortran libraries. Early versions of the language did not even contain functions for statistical modeling.
In 1988 the system was rewritten in C and began to resemble the system that we have today (this was Version 3 of the language). The book Statistical Models in S by Chambers and Hastie (the white book) documents the statistical analysis functionality. Version 4 of the S language was released in 1998 and is the version we use today. The book Programming with Data by John Chambers (the green book) documents this version of the language.
Since the early 90’s the life of the S language has gone down a rather winding path. In 1993 Bell Labs gave StatSci (later Insightful Corp.) an exclusive license to develop and sell the S language. In 2004 Insightful purchased the S language from Lucent for $2 million. In 2006, Alcatel purchased Lucent
Technologies and is now called Alcatel-Lucent.
Insightful sold its implementation of the S language under the product name S-PLUS and built a number of fancy features (GUIs, mostly) on top of it—hence the “PLUS”. In 2008 Insightful was
acquired by TIBCO for $25 million. As of this writing TIBCO is the current owner of the S language and is its exclusive developer.
The fundamentals of the S language itself has not changed dramatically since the publication of the Green Book by John Chambers in 1998. In 1998, S won the Association for Computing Machinery’s Software System Award, a highly prestigious award in the computer science field.
Back to R
The R language came to use quite a bit after S had been developed. One key limitation of the S language was that it was only available in a commericial package, S-PLUS. In 1991, R was created by Ross Ihaka and Robert Gentleman in the Department of Statistics at the University of Auckland. In 1993 the first announcement of R was made to the public. Ross’s and Robert’s experience developing R is documented in a 1996 paper in the Journal of Computational and Graphical Statistics:
Ross Ihaka and Robert Gentleman. R: A language for data analysis and graphics. Journal of Computational and Graphical Statistics, 5(3):299–314, 1996
In 1995, Martin Mächler made an important contribution by convincing Ross and Robert to use the GNU General Public License⁹ to make R free software. This was critical because it allowed for the source code for the entire R system to be accessible to anyone who wanted to tinker with it (more
on free software later).
In 1996, a public mailing list was created (the R-help and R-devel lists) and in 1997 the R Core Group was formed, containing some people associated with S and S-PLUS. Currently, the core group
controls the source code for R and is solely able to check in changes to the main R source tree. Finally, in 2000 R version 1.0.0 was released to the public.