A first look at SAS University Edition

My first introduction to SAS came near the start of my post-university career over a decade ago. It was six weeks of classroom training and hands-on case studies that got me going with SAS 6.12. The included SAS products naturally included the components of Base SAS for data processing (data step, PROC SQL) and reporting as well as SAS/Graph. All of that was enough for a placement with one of my then employer’s clients with the added advantage of becoming one of the client’s own employees at the end of it. During that stay, more SAS versions followed until the launch of 9.1.3. Eventually, I moved onto pastures new and I remain a SAS user with 9.3 being the most recent version that I have met at work while SAS University Edition is bringing me towards 9.4.

SAS Learning Edition

Though it is possible to extend one’s knowledge on the job, that can be harder to manage during the working day when times are busy. Before SAS University Edition, we had SAS Learning Edition and I took delivery of a copy while it was available. It included SAS Enterprise Guide 4.1 together with a limited version of SAS 9 that a few limitations. Firstly it only would process up to 1500 records in any dataset but that was not such a problem for learning. Support from SAS was limited too even if the package had a price that I seem to remember was around £100 but my memory is hazy about this. What you need to remember is that SAS licenses are vastly more expensive than this so you got that for which you have paid. If you did have a Base SAS installation, Learning Edition would co-exist with it and versions like 8.2 and 9.1.3 Service Pack 4 were compatible so long as you had them pre-installed. There was a warning that re-installation of software might be required if either SAS Learning Edition or Base SAS is removed inappropriately.

Speaking of licenses, Learning Edition was time limited with its own version 2.0 (based on Enterprise Guide 2.0 and, if I recall correctly, SAS 8.2) and version 4.1 purchased prior to September 10, 2007 expiring on December 31, 2008. The expiry date for version 4.1 after the aforementioned purchase deadline was December 31, 2011. More conventionally, it was for single PC installation only and that PC had to run either Windows 2000 or Windows XP Professional. The process was one that would be more than familiar to anyone who ever installed software on a machine running Windows. Even with those older operating systems, it needed 1,080 MB of hard disk space. It reminds me of a time when 10 GB of hard drive capacity was generous but that had moved beyond 160 GB around ten years ago. The RAM requirements also fitted the time with 256 MB being the bare minimum and 512 MB being recommended.

Usefully, the whole package came with a copy of The Little SAS Book and, not having it next to me while writing these words, I cannot recall whether whether it was the version for Enterprise Guide or the Primer edition. Though I may not have made as much use of the software as I could have done, it certainly came in useful for trying a few things and I found a way to start up the more traditional SAS DMS interface as well as Enterprise Guide.

SAS University Edition

Apart for being made available free of charge, SAS University Edition is very different from its predecessor, SAS Learning Edition. After all, things have moved along since the last decade and SAS has its SAS Analytics U (for University, I presume) community now and that may explain the name though there is a wider focus on established university teaching too. Even long term SAS users like me can be called learners too so we get allowed in as well.

Firstly, it works in a very different way since you no longer are installing SAS software like you would with Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop. To work, it needs you to have one of Oracle VirtualBox (4.3.12 is preferred at the time of writing), VMware Player or VMware Fusion because what you are getting is a virtual machine. For those unfamiliar with such things, SAS has Quick Start guides for each:

VirtualBox

VMware Player

VMware Fusion

The available VM’s are built around Linux in that 64-bit Red Hat Enterprise Linux is installed in there with SAS running as a service on top of it. In fact, the virtual runs solely as a server with just a screen informing you of the IP address that you need to load in your web browser of choice. That reveals another break with the past with SAS Studio being used in place of Enterprise Guide or the SAS DMS. While all the processing happens within the virtual machine, it is possible to store files on your own host operating system’s file system using by setting up a shared folder called myfolders that points to where you want it and that SAS Studio can use.

The use of virtualisation to roll out a local SAS server that makes SAS Studio available is neat and means that you do not need to run Microsoft Windows on a PC as was the case with SAS Learning Edition. Mac OS X and Linux are possibilities and I use the latter at home so this is a very good thing. Furthermore, there are installation guide for each supported operating system:

Linux

OS X

OS X

The version of SAS that you get is 9.4 and it is licensed until the middle of June 2015 with a 45 day grace period taking you as far as the end of July. Along with Base SAS, you also get SAS/STAT, SAS/IML, SAS/Secure 168-bit, SAS/ACCESS Interface to PC Files, SAS/ACCESS Interface to ODBC, SAS/IML Studio, SAS Workspace Server for Local Access, SAS Workspace Server for Enterprise Access and High Performance Suite. SAS/Graph is absent but new statistical graphics procedures like SGPLOT and SGPANEL are there so graph creation possibilities should be covered anyway.

All in all, SAS University Edition looks a snazzy arrangement and I plan to explore what is offered. SAS Studio is a new to me but there are enough recognisable features to help me settle in with it and it would merit an entry of its own on here. In fact, SAS has some video tutorials on their YouTube channel that show off some of its capabilities and the new tool certainly carries over from both Enterprise Guide and the more traditional DMS interface.

Speaking of blogging, SAS has an entry on one of the theirs that it has called Free SAS Software for students!, which is another introduction to SAS University Edition. Other (non-blog) articles include Get Started With SAS® University Edition along with a useful FAQ.

Smoother use of more than one SAS DMS session at a time

Unless you have access to SAS Enterprise Guide, being able to work on one project at a time can be a little inconvenient. It is possible to open up more than one Display Manager System (DMS, the traditional SAS programming interface) session at a time but you can get a pop up window for SAS documentation for second and subsequent sessions and you don’t get your settings shared across them either.

The cause of both of the above is the locking of the SASUSER directory files by the first SAS session. However, it is possible to set up a number of directories and set the -sasuser option to point at different ones for different sessions.

On Windows, the command in the SAS shortcut becomes:

C:\Program Files\SAS\SAS 9.1\sas.exe -sasuser “c:\sasuser\session 1\”

On UNIX or Linux, it would look similar to this:

sas -sasuser “~/sasuser/session1/”

The “session1” in the folder paths above can be replaced with whatever you need and you can have as many as you want too. It might not seem much of a need but synchronising the SASUSER folders every now and again can give you a more consistent set of settings across each and you don’t get intrusive pop up boxes or extra messages in the log either.

Setting VIEWTABLE to show column names in SAS

By default in the DMS, Base SAS opens datasets from its Explorer using VIEWTABLE and with variable labels in the column headings and not variable names. Because I have been fortunate to use systems with SAS/FSP both installed and licensed, I have taken to using FSVIEW for browsing SAS datasets as a workaround and, though the interface may look old to some, it proves to be a very flexible tool that still has a few things to teach newer ones. With SAS Enterprise Guide, the dataset viewing functionality is different to both VIEWTABLE and FSVIEW but I have been to make it work for me. The SAS EG dataset viewing tool may appear like the former of these but it has a few tricks to teach its forbear.

Now that I find myself working again with the traditional SAS DMS interface and without SAS/FSP, I decided to see if there was a way to get VIEWTABLE to display variable names instead of variable labels by default. As it happened, the answer was found in an internet forum discussion. From the SAS command line, you can achieve the result issuing a command like the following:

VT SASHELP.VCOLUMN COLHEADING=NAMES

VT is the VIEWTABLE shortcut but it is the COLHEADING=NAMES option on the line that gets variable names shown in column headings. Taking it further, you can set this as the default setting for datasets opened using a mouse from Explorer panes using the following procedure:

  • Click in or on the Explorer pane to highlight the the Explorer window.
  • Select Tools->Options->Explorer in the menus.
  • Select the Members tab.
  • Double click on the TABLE icon.
  • Double click on the &Open action.
  • Set the Action command to:  VIEWTABLE %8b.’%s’.DATA COLHEADING=NAMES.
  • Click on the Set Default button.
  • Save changes and close the Explorer Options window.

Because the DMS looks similar across versions 8.0 through to 9.2, the above instructions should be relevant to all of those. While I have yet to get the opportunity to use SAS 9.3, I would be surprised to find that the traditional SAS interface has changed there too, even though much else has changed about SAS. In fact, the latest version of SAS has brought quite a few new interesting features for programmers so it seems that you can do more through a familiar interface, not entirely a bad thing. It looks as if this VIEWTABLE tweak could be useful for a while yet.