Most statistics packages, such as SPSS's eponymous SPSS and SAS Institute's JMP, have entered the new millennium as interactive menuand dialog-driven programs. In contrast, Stata is still reminiscent of a 1970s mainframe application. This otherwise powerful program relies on a procedural language for all interactions with your data, making for a substantial learning curve.
A Different Approach
Stata does have a Mac interface, which it uses for relatively infrequent actions, such as setting preferences, opening files and windows, and printing. You'll spend most of your time in the Command window, typing and editing procedural instructions for displaying data, generating statistics, and creating graphs. The program routes all text output to a scrolling window; graphs appear in another window. Constructing and typing commands is no harder than it was with the early statistics packages, but this approach occasionally results in typos and syntax errors that users of menuand dialog-driven programs never have to deal with.
To aid in the learning process, the program comes with 15 pounds of manuals, a series of noninterac-tive tutorials, and an extensive help system. Stata is extensible: you can modify the statistical procedures or create new ones. You can also capture a log of your session and use it as the basis for an executable do-file (a batch file used to automate a series of analyses).
Alas, Stata 7 lags behind the competition in graphics and formats, supporting only eight 2-D graph types (plus combinations). For a slightly lower price, SPSS 10 (4.5 mice. ; Reviews , March 2001) can produce more than twice as many graph types, lets you edit graphs, and can generate attractive 3-D graphs suitable for business reports. And while Stata offers an impressive array of statistics and options, it doesn't support OLAP (online analytical processing) cubes as SPSS 10 does.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Stata 7 isn't for casual users or novice statisticians. But if you're a full-time researcher or statistics professional who can devote the time needed to learn Stata, it's well worth considering. However, if you prefer a more interactive, menu-driven approach--one that doesn't rely on memorizing commands and syntax--you'll be happier with SPSS.Type or Click: You can type procedure names, variable names, and options in Stata's Command window or choose them from the Review and Variables windows.