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The goal of R's developers, Ross Ihaka and Robert Gentleman, was to build on the bases of S (a programming language developed in 1976 by John Chambers and rewritten in C in 1988 to make it easier to use all machines).  They wanted to make a programming language to aid in "statistical computing and graphics" by creating an interactive programming environment that takes the hard core coding out of the process.  The graphics are superior to many statistical language, and the open source component allows users to continue to make and add to packages to help their fellow programmers.  A down side to this is that developments happen based on the desire of the community, so it can a long time to make some improvements.  R is usually especially for its data storage abilities and array/matrix manipulation for easy statistical analysis, but it is also has basic loops, conditionals, and recursion abilities.  It is a compiled language.