Pros and Cons
SAS 6.12 Update
The PCENG engine, which permits SAS on the Mac to read and write PC-format
data sets, has been released as part of version 6.12 and works like a
charm. The Mac is now the only SAS platform which can read and write data
sets in both PC and Unix formats.
The Mac as a SAS Platform
Recently, a user who was considering buying a new computer was concerned
about the Mac's suitability as a SAS platform. Our campus is a mixed Mac
and Windows environment. The vast majority of our SAS licenses are for
Windows, DOS, and OS/2, though we have a few Mac SAS users, a central Unix
platform, and a number of other Unix SAS users.
In response, I developed a list of the pros and cons of the Mac as a SAS
- Most importantly, SAS for the Macintosh runs on your Mac. If you
have strong preferences about what you use for your non-SAS computing
and/or significant investments in Mac software, that's an important issue.
If you've been using a Mac for some time, my experience is that PC support
for importing your Mac files is much less than the Mac support for
importing PC files with which you may be familiar.
- If you intend to work in a mixed desktop/Unix environment, SAS datasets
do NOT have to be converted to go from Mac to Sun, IBM AIX, Convex, or
HP-Unix, and SAS catalogs do NOT have to be converted to go from Mac to Sun
or HP-Unix. In addition, under version 6.12, the Mac will has an option in
the LIBNAME statement permitting you to read and write Windows and OS/2 SAS
data sets without needing a transport file. In contrast, as of version
6.12, Windows and OS/2 SAS does not read Mac/Unix data sets, and Unix SAS
does not read Windows or OS/2 data sets.
- In my (admittedly limited) experience, the Mac tends to be pretty
stable and reasonably powerful as a SAS machine. I did a little testing
of a job I had running PROC MIXED; on the Convex, this job took about 40
CPU minutes (about 1 hour 20 minutes real time). On my Mac (a 7200/90,
40MB of memory), it took about 45 minutes. On two different 486 machines
(neither with as much memory as my Mac, one running OS/2 and the other
running NT 4.0), the job failed to run, probably because of memory
- SAS on the Mac can be customized in some interesting ways. For each
file type, you can control what happens if you tell SAS to open the file.
For example, you can set up SAS on the Mac so that double-clicking on a
SAS data set opens that data set under PROC INSIGHT, if that's how you like
to access your data.
- If you like knowing what your computer is doing and which files are
where, the Mac is much easier to figure out. The folder structure is
straightforward, and I've never had a Mac refuse to run SAS because it
failed to find a file. For the handful of revised executables SAS has
released as bug fixes, installation simply consists of dropping the file
into the folder and having it replace the old file.
- SAS does not develop SAS on the Mac as quickly as SAS on other
platforms. The first version ever was 6.10, there was no 6.11, and 6.12
is forthcoming but will come out later than the PC version (my best guess
would be May '97; the PC version is already out). This means that bugs
on the Mac side take longer to get fixed, and--at least in version
6.10--there are a fair number of bugs resulting from the fact that it's
the first time it's been done. A handful of bug fixes (in the form of
replacement executable files) have been made available on the Usage
Notes CDs since the SAS 6.10 for the Mac was released.
- A lot of the Mac-specific stuff is poorly documented. SAS just
released a new Companion for Windows which is thorough, detailed, and
useful. The SAS Companion for the Macintosh is brief and sketchy--it's
not too much of an exaggeration to say that it's a reference to the
options that can be set, and virtually nothing else. I've been told that
version 6.12 will have more extensive online documentation, but I have yet
to see it. I hope that this web site will be able to fill some of the gaps.
- The Mac does not multitask its SAS processing. From the time your
program starts running until the time it ends, you get a watch cursor and
can't do anything else with the computer. Under Windows, you can read
email, work in a word processor, etc. while your SAS job is running.
(This will make the job run more slowly, of course, but could well be more
Comparisons and Conclusions
The Display Manager interface on the Macintosh is somewhat different than
on Windows or OS/2. The toolbar is a floating customizable palette, and
the command line is also available on a palette. The log, list, and
program editor windows are normal Mac windows, so the interface is more
like SAS under Unix/X-windows rather than SAS on PC Windows.
While there are some liabilities to the Mac as a SAS platform compared to
a PC/Windows environment, there are also some advantages, most notably (a)
you have a Mac to do the rest of your stuff and (b) you have easier file
transfer with the Unix world.
The 6.12 release will probably make Mac SAS a little smoother; I suspect
that the identified problems will be fixed (most notably a really buggy
Options Editor interface which is being eliminated). The engine to read PC
data files is a definite plus. I don't know whether the documentation
problem will be fixed; if you have Mac experience, though, a lot of things
are pretty obvious (and if you have SAS experience on another platform,
they're even more obvious).
The multitasking is really only an issue if you have long-running jobs and
want to do something else with the computer while the job runs. With the
easy transfer of data between Mac and Unix, you could get around this
problem by farming the large jobs out to a larger Unix machine if one is
The SAS Program Editor is not terribly "Mac-like" as a text editor.
However, there are a lot of other options on the Mac. Specifically, you
can edit your SAS programs in BBEdit, Alpha, or some other program and then
run them in SAS, either via drag-and-drop, by loading the saved text
file into the Program Editor, or by using AppleScript submission (as in the
BBEdit SAS Script Package provided on this site).
On the whole, I find I like the Mac as a SAS platform; I'm still working on
customizing my environment to the point where I'm really comfortable with
it (ideally I want batch-style submission and enough scriptability that I
can write my programs using BBEdit or Alpha and automatically submit
them). My machine is towards the low end of current machines in terms of
speed (a Power Mac 7200/90), but I find that an extra 16MB DIMM or two does
a lot more for performance than an extra 50 MHz of CPU speed.
Return to SAS for the Macintosh.