A notebook interface (also called a computational notebook) is a virtual notebook environment used for literate programming, a method of writing computer programs. Some notebooks are WYSIWYG environments including executable calculations embedded in formatted documents; others separate calculations and text into separate sections.
At the notebook core is the idea of literate programming tools which can be described as "tools let you arrange the parts of a program in any order and extract documentation and code from the same source file.", the notebook takes this approach to a new level extending it with some graphic functionality and a focus on interactivity. According to Stephen Wolfram: "The idea of a notebook is to have an interactive document that freely mixes code, results, graphics, text and everything else.", and according to the Jupyter Project Documentation: "The notebook extends the console-based approach to interactive computing in a qualitatively new direction, providing a web-based application suitable for capturing the whole computation process: developing, documenting, and executing code, as well as communicating the results. The Jupyter notebook combines two components".
Research on WYSIWYG mathematical systems supporting mixed text and calculations with a document metaphor begin to be published in 1987: Ron Avitzur's Milo, William Schelter's INFOR, Xerox PARC's Tioga and CaminoReal.
As the notebook interface increased in popularity over the next two decades, notebooks for various computational back ends ("kernels") have been introduced, including MATLAB, Python, Julia, Scala, SQL, and others.
Notebooks are traditionally used in the sciences as electronic lab notebooks to document research procedures, data, calculations, and findings. Notebooks track methodology to make it easier to reproduce results and calculations with different data sets. In education, the notebook interface provides a digital learning environment, particularly for the teaching of computational thinking. Their utility for combining text with code makes them unique in the realm of education. Digital notebooks are sometimes used for presentations as an alternative to PowerPoint and other presentation software, as they allow for the execution of code inside the notebook environment. Due to their ability to display data visually and retrieve data from different sources by modifying code, notebooks are also entering the realm of business intelligence software.
^Dennis S. Arnon, ed., "Workshop on Environments for Computational Mathematics (July 1987)", Computer Graphics22:1 (February 1988)
^Richard J. Fateman, "Computer Systems for the Representation and Manipulation of Mathematical Knowledge", Final report, August 1987 (DTIC AD-A193 547)
^Butler W. Lampson, "Personal Distributed Computing: The Alto and Ethernet Software", A history of personal workstations, 1988, ISBN 0201112590, p. 318
^Dennis Arnon, Richard Beach, Kevin McIsaac, "CaminoReal: An Interactive Mathematical Notebook", in J.C. van Vliet, ed., Document Manipulation and Typography, Proceedings of the International Conference on Electronic Publishing, Document Manipulation and Typography, Nice, April 20-22, 1988, ISBN 0521362946, p. 2
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