SPSS 16 full review

SPSS is a longtime player in the statistical/scientific software realm. Over the years, SPSS has migrated from its birthplace on the mainframe to the desktop with an occasional bump in the road, most notably when it came to the Mac.

As the Mac platform evolved to incorporate the PowerPC chip, Mac OS X, and, recently, Intel processors, SPSS has consistently lagged behind its Windows counterpart in features and support.

With the release of version 16, SPSS has made changes to the product that should ensure smoother transitions in the future and, even better, keep the Mac version in sync with the program’s Windows and Linux versions. These changes are primarily due to the complete re-implementation of the user interface in Java. The core statistical calculations are still done using platform-specific compiled code, ensuring efficient computation. In fact, several procedures have been optimised for multithreading on modern multicore processors, including the regression, correlation, and factor analysis modules.

Educators, especially those who teach in multiplatform environments, will be happy with the consistency across the product line. However, this consistency comes at the cost of aesthetics – the application has a clear Java look and feel. The web browser-based help system also feels a little bit clunky.

One frequently heard complaint is that desktop versions of the major statistical packages can’t deal with the massive data sets that their mainframe parents can handle. To put both SPSS’s statistical engine and its user interface to the test we created a 5 million-row, 10-variable data file to import and analyse. Using a MacBook Pro, we were able to compute a multi-factor ANOVA on this massive data set in just under 10 seconds. The data editor didn’t hiccup – a testament to the strength of the program’s Java implementation.

Also new on the Mac platform is the Chart Builder feature. Anyone who has struggled with dialog boxes full of graphing options will welcome the ability to perform WYSIWYG editing on the visual depictions of their data.

With version 16, SPSS has levelled the playing field across all platforms, and the program’s Java implementation should allow the Mac version to keep up in the future.

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