Easy to install ESS under Windows

Paul Johnson pauljohn at ku.edu
Sun Apr 18 19:25:42 CEST 2004

My students don't understand very much about Windows, even though they 
fiercely insist on using it.  It totally baffles me.  Some kept coming 
back to me says "we can't make Xemacs work" or "we can't make ESS work 
in Emacs" and I sat down with a Windows system to try to figure it out.

I agreed with them that Xemacs installation is too slow to be feasible. 
  We did find a startup program, but the ftp servers were so impossibly 
slow that I gave up.

I prefer Emacs anyway, so I checked into that.

4 years ago, back when I did use windows sometimes, I remember that 
someone--was it Richard Heiberger??--had written the simplest possible 
install instruction.  But I can't find that now on the net.

I think that the ESS guide here is pretty good:


but we did not tumble on to this until pretty late in the advanture.

So I made some "idiot proof" install instructions.  In particular, I 
want to avoid telling people to edit or create ".emacs" and instead of 
telling them "install wherever you want," I'm telling them exactly where 
to put it, so there's not ambiguity.


In case you want to install Emacs on a personal computer, here's what 
you do.  This is not the most elegant strategy, but it does work on the 
Windows 2000 and Windows XP systems that I have used.

Get this file:


I found copies on many of the ftp mirrors, including:


I do not know if the version of the file called

is better or worse. I suspect it is better.

make a directory


Note: no space.

open the tarball (using winzip or any other tar-equipt compression 
program you want), you dump the emacs-21.3-fullbin-i386.tar.gz it into 

It creates a directory so you see


Look inside there for subdirectories

bin : "binary", meaning programs.  There you see "runemacs.exe" which is 
the thing you would double click on.  You can create desktop shortcuts 
in the usual way if you want.

lisp:  a collection of files in lisp format that supply addon capability

site-lisp:  an empty place where you can install things like ESS

In the Windows Explorer, go into the bin directory, double click the 
"addpm" program. That makes a little registry change in your system. It 
adds an Emacs start menu iterm. I always go move the icon for emacs into 
the Editor group and delete the GNU Emacs group. You don't have to.

Now, go get a version of ESS. I would install this one:


Untar it into the site-lisp directory.

It will create its own directory, so it should be


THen create a file called "site-start.el" and in the site-lisp 
directory. You need only one line:

(load "c:/ProgramFiles/emacs-21.3/site-lisp/ess-5.1.24/lisp/ess-site.el")

(that's all on one line). Note, if you change directories or such, then 
you have to fix that. Store that file in 

Its such a small file I attached it to this email.

(I choose to put this in site-start.el because then ESS will work for 
all users, not just the ones who are smart enough to find directions 
that explain how to put the same element into the user .emacs file.)

That should get the job done.  If your R is working and if the R/bin 
directory is in your path, then Emacs will be able to find it.  So open 
a file with the extension R, then type

M-x  R

(M is for "meta", which may be the ALT key on your system)

If R does not start inside Emacs shell, then it means your R is 
installed incorrectly/incompletely. Most likely, you need to add the 
directory that holds R/bin into your search PATH.  In Windows2000 or XP, 
that's a setting you can change in the control panel/system/environment. 
  In Win 95/98, you can put a line in your autoexec bat that adds the 
R/bin to your PATH.  I could look up that syntax for you, but don't want 
to encourage you to use those systems.

Honestly, I don't know why it seems so complicated to install Emacs and 
ESS when you look around the internet.  Maybe I'm not helping by adding 
one more voice in the mess.  It must be true that there are many many 
ways to do it.

This way works, I've seen it with both eyes on 2 windows computers.

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