SPSS Statistics 17.0 Frustrates Me (a review)

I finally received my copy of SPSS Statistics 17 a couple of days ago and determined that I would try to push past my frustration with the “new and improved” Java-based interface and use it to analyze some data for a report I’m working on. But I can’t do it. There aren’t enough compelling features in the new version of SPSS to help me get past my frustration with the Java interface. So I’m sticking with SPSS 15.

SPSS, I really did try. I wanted to like it. I’m one of those people who can’t stand to be using old versions of software — I always want to have the latest features (admittedly, I’m still using Office 2003, but that’s mostly a work thing), and so I always upgrade as fast as I possibly can. And when I received SPSS 16 in the mail last fall I did rush to install it — but after only a few hours of trying to use it, I gave up and for the rest of 2007 and most of 2008 went back to using SPSS 15 (as far as I could tell there weren’t that many differences between the two versions — at least for the features I used).

But I couldn’t very well not upgrade after two “major” version releases of SPSS. I couldn’t suffer the embarrassment of having to tell people that I was still using a version of the software that was now almost 3 years old. So I sat down, installed the software, and even went so far as to adjust the options so that the settings would be just the way I liked them.

I should admit right off the bat that I’m not much of a statistician. There are a lot of features in SPSS that I don’t use all that regularly. I mean, I use just about everything on the “Data” menu and the “Transform” menu on a regular basis, but I don’t use a lot of the fancy options on the “Analyze” menu (incidentally, did you notice I keep saying “Menu” — I’m not much of a syntax geek — VB.NET, SQL, and Actionscript are enough for me on the computer language front). So if all of the magic and wonder of SSPS Statistics 17 is in the SPSS syntax, or in the Python, or in whatever fancy programming options they’ve introduced, I won’t notice them.

What I do notice is the fact that the Java interface feels funny. When I try to select SPSS 17 menu items on my admittedly high resolution screen, I miss. When I select cells, they don’t react in the same way as all of my regular Windows applications. When I click drop down menus, they look weird. Frankly, nothing is really in the right place, or the right size, or organized in a way I like it.

And yes, I did customize the SPSS 17 in the “Options” menu to look as Windowsy as I could. I was hopeful for a little bit when I hit “Accept” and the window changed colors to look less Java-like and more like the regular SPSS windows I’m used to seeing.

But then I tried to run Custom Tables 17. Which, besides looking weird, and besides not offering ANY new features from what I’m used to seeing in SPSS Custom Tables 15, has funny looking output.

Actually, I should take that back. SPSS Custom Tables 17 does have one new feature that I am absolutely not crazy about. After you make your table and try to copy the results into Excel (which is where I make all of my charts — call me old-school) the results now retain their SPSS Output formatting. That is, in the past, when I would copy data from SPSS to Excel, only the data itself would be copied. But now when I copy the data, it brings along all of the formatting, including the percentage signs (which tends to mess with how Excel deals with the data).

So to use SPSS Statistics 17 I either need to change the way I work with data in Excel, or I need convert it all back to what I’m used to.

The thing is, I can’t really find any new features in this new version of SPSS that I actually need. For example, for my simple marketing research purposes I don’t care about the new algorithms, or the speed improvements. I don’t have the Missing Values module, so I don’t care about the new multiple imputation. I don’t use syntax, so I don’t care about the updates to the syntax editor, and I don’t care all too much about the new EZ RFM module. I’m also never going to integrate third party applications.

Improved SPSS 17 integration with Microsoft Office ought to be a plus, but if that simply means that the software is going to format my data against my will (as described above) I’m not impressed.

So for the meantime I am sticking with my beat up old copy of SPSS 15. SPSS Statistics 17 can stay in its box, right next to the box for SPSS 16, and maybe I can look forward to either (a) exciting new features in SPSS Statistics 18.0 that will make me feel compelled to shift to the new version (give me folders to help me organize my variables and I’ll shift for sure!) or (b) maybe SPSS will give up on this Java interface and go back to the Windows interface me and my colleagues at work have come to love.

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