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Not Using a Text Editor Interface for Mathematica

  • To: mathgroup at
  • Subject: [mg64444] Not Using a Text Editor Interface for Mathematica
  • From: "David Park" <djmp at>
  • Date: Fri, 17 Feb 2006 04:11:55 -0500 (EST)
  • Sender: owner-wri-mathgroup at

There have been a number of postings on using text editor interfaces for Mathematica packages or in Mathematica itself.

I would like to demur. The average user would be better off mastering the regular Mathematica notebook interface. The default interface automatically provides spaces and automatic indentation. (Some users change the default, using InputForm say, or changing options in the Option Inspector, but this almost always degrades the interface.) About the only thing I add to the default formatting is to sometimes add line breaks to put each statement on it's own line, or to add white space between groups of statements.

When I first bought Mathematica, Version 2.2, WRI had a slogan: "A system for doing mathematics by computer". I like to think of using Mathematica as doing mathematics. Using a text editor with tabs and coloring of symbols for syntax coding pushes the paradigm away from mathematics and toward computer science and thinking of Mathematica as a programming language. Let the C programmers at WRI worry about the computer science.

Far better to think in terms of the Text-Equations-Diagrams (TED) interface. Think of Mathematica as pencil and paper. Write your textual explanations, write definitions, equations and rules, and draw diagrams. It's the style of technical communication used for the last 2500 years (only much improved!) This is the style of textbooks, technical reports and research papers. The TED style has lasted so long because it is completely flexible and very powerful. It is the style of Mathematica notebooks.

For the vast majority of users the TED, Mathematica notebook paradigm is much better than any text editor, programming language paradigm. (And the same thing goes for attempting to use palette and button interfaces for general use - with a few exceptions.)

David Park
djmp at 

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