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Re: Getting a pure text widget?

  • To: mathgroup at
  • Subject: [mg61376] Re: [mg61355] Getting a pure text widget?
  • From: "David Park" <djmp at>
  • Date: Mon, 17 Oct 2005 02:29:44 -0400 (EDT)
  • Sender: owner-wri-mathgroup at


I am going to take a different position on this. I think that Mathematica
has a perfectly good user interface, which is the Mathematica notebook.

The Mathematica notebook follows a tradition of technical publication that
goes back at least to Euclid. The interface is the blending together of
expository text, equations and diagrams. This is what one sees in
mathematical, scientific and technical journals today. It is what one sees
in textbooks. One might call it the classic text-equation-diagram interface.

But the Mathematica notebook is a revolutionary advance over the classic
interface. It is so new that only a few have absorbed its capabilities and
made effective use of them. With the Mathematica engine behind it, a
Mathematica notebook follows but becomes much more powerful than the classic
interface. A short notebook can generate calculations, graphics and
animation. A reader can modify any of these elements. A notebook can include
routines and tools that a reader can use to check or extend the material in
the notebook. A reader can add calculations and also add comments and text.
In other words a Mathematica notebook is an active text-equation-diagram

A Mathematica notebook, if handled properly, is already far superior to
classic techincal papers and instructional material.

In my limited experience I have observed that most users do not bother to
learn how to use the notebook interface. They don't know how to use Text
cells, or enter mathematical expressions in the text cells. They don't know
how to use the Section/Subsection organization of a notebook. They often opt
for Manual Grouping, which practically destroys the notebook concept. Manual
Grouping destroys the reader's ability to easily add material to a notebook
and that's one of the revolutionary advantages! They put in a rainbow of
colors that has no meaning to the typical reader and that only distracts
from the presentation of the material. Instead of using Titles and Subtitles
at the top of the notebook they put them anywhere and sometimes use them for
comments! They don't know how to use graphics and animation. They generally
slight textual exposition, which is just as important as the calculations.

I believe that we are still learning how to use the notebook style. Perhaps
the great Masterpieces of 'Classical Mathematica' have yet to be produced.
It's a metter of good material, good writing, good style and elegance.

As for widgets and palette interfaces - I'm generally opposed to them for
several reasons.

1) It is extremely difficult to make an interface that is as versatile as
the text-equation-diagram interface. Non-notebook interfaces usually end up
being limited choice devices and are therefore quite restrictive.

2) People already understand the text-equation-diagram interface. (Actually
many don't but they are in a preliterate state.) Each new pallete or widget
interface presents a new learning challenge. It's true that the introduction
of Windows type GUI computer interface from PARC was a vast improvement on
the old command line computer interface. But it only brought us back to the
possibility of an active text-equation-diagram interface. The Mathematica
notebook already incorporates this. It may be possible to come up with
something different and better - but it's going to be very difficult.

3) Is the widget going to completely replace notebooks or is it going to be
some kind of extra palette tool? Competition to get your widget on the
desktop is fierce. Desktop space is precious. One will have to come up with
something really good to get one's widget on very many people's desktops.
Special purpose widgets for special applications have a better chance - but
even here there is much misplaced effort.

Mathematica notebooks are already a revolutionary and versatile user
interface for recording and communicating technical material and people
would be well advised to put their efforts to exploiting their possiblities.

David Park
djmp at

From: Steven T. Hatton [mailto:hattons at]
To: mathgroup at

I am 100% certain that a better UI could be created for Mathematica.

Are my perceptions in error here?

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