[R] R vs Matlab: which is more "programmer friendly"?

Tamas Papp tpapp at axelero.hu
Sun Apr 25 11:08:09 CEST 2004


The department of economics at our university (Budapest) is planning a
course on numerical methods in economics.  They are trying to decide
which software to use for that, and I would like to advocate R.  The
other alternative is Matlab.

I have found comparisons in terms of computational time for matrix
algebra, but I don't think that is relevant: the bottleneck for
economists is usually the programmer's time: if it takes a couple of
hours to write something that is run only a few times, one should not
care whether it runs in 2 or 2.1 minutes...

I am an economist, and I have used Octave, but only until I found R.
So I am not in a position to evaluate Matlab vs R.  I would be
grateful if somebody could compare R to Matlab, especially regarding
the following:

1. How "smart" the language is.  R appears to be a nice functional
programming language, is Matlab comparable?  Last time I used Octave,
it seemed to be little more than syntactic sugar on some C/Fortran
libraries.  It appears to me that using R gradually pushes people
towards better programming habits, but I may be biased (I am a Scheme

2. Learning curve.  If somebody could share his/her experience on
using R or Matlab or both in the classrom, how students take to it.

3. Which language do you think is better for students' further
development?  We would like to equip them with something they can use
later on in their career even if they don't become theoretical
economists (very few undergraduate students do that).

4. How flexible are these languages when developing new
applications/functions?  Very few of the problems I encounter have a
ready-made solution in a toolbox/library.



Tamás K. Papp
E-mail: tpapp at axelero.hu
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