R Tools for Visual Studio – impressions

My journey as an R user – and often evangelist – is now in its tenth year. I would have never guessed that in 2016 I’d be writing about Microsoft’s R IDE: R Tools for Visual Studio. But here we are, and here we go:

  • It is R Tools for Visual Studio, so if you can’t stand VS, don’t bother
    • Based on the popularity of Visual Studio, it may be worth learning to use because it’s not only popular, it can help get you a job
    •  Google popularity trends (Eclipse, Visual Studio, Netbeans):google_trends
    • Indeed job trends (Visual Studio, Eclipse, Netbeans)indeed_trends
  • The recent 0.3 update for R Tools makes it a legitimate contender and competitor to the near ubiquitous R Studio IDE (see Revolutions blog)
    • R Tools prior to the 0.3 release was lacking key features such as an assignment operator shortcut key and package management
    • Connecting to Git wasn’t incredibly difficult, but not as straightforward as R Studio. Disclaimer, this is probably a biased view since I had no prior Visual Studio experience. In my defense, I would guess most R Studio users have little to no background in Visual Studio.
  • R Tools isn’t quite ready to convert the masses…but it’s close
    • Despite an honest effort to transition my R development work to R Tools for Visual Studio, I’ve reverted back to R Studio for now
      • R Tools kept crashing Visual Studio for apparently no good reason. Perhaps it was just my system, but random crashes that I never experience in R Studio is a deal breaker.
      • To my knowledge there are no convenient shortcut buttons for building R packages (no equivalent to the ‘Build’ tab in R Studio). In the end it doesn’t matter all that much, I can type document() in the console, but it does impact how you feel about the product.
  • What is needed to convert the masses?
    • This isn’t a comprehensive list, but here are a few thoughts:
      1. RTVS needs to feel like Visual Studio was built for R Tools, not the other way around. Why such a tall request? R users are currently using an IDE that was built for R, and only R.
      2. RTVS needs to create features that lure us into the product. The Code Snippets that allow user-defined shortcut keys to execute user-defined code is one of those types of features. We need more.
      3. Linux and Mac. To my knowledge Visual Studio Code (which can be installed on Mac and Linux) does not currently support RTVS.

What did I miss? What did I get wrong? What has your experience been with R Tools for Visual Studio?