What the heck is a Python Notebook?

I recently started my journey back into coding.  When I originally entered the Software Development field, Cobol and Macro-level were all the rage.  I have spent my entire career leading and helping software teams deliver better products.

With the advent of AI, I decided it was time to jump back in.  So, I decided to start with Python.  Python is one of the first languages that first-timers can jump in on.

Straight out of the gate, I ran into something that confused me.  What the heck is a Python Notebook, and how is it different from an Integrated Development Environment (IDE)?

Following my ADHD tendencies, I decided to find out.  Here is what I found.

The primary difference between a Python notebook and an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) lies in their design, intended use cases, and how users interact with each.

Let’s take a little bit deeper look.  Here’s a breakdown of the main distinctions:

Integrated Development Environment (IDE)

An IDE is a complete development tool.  They offer a full suite of tools for software development.  They include features like a source code editor, a debugger, a build automation tools.  Many offer version control or integration to a version control system like GitHub.  They’re designed to handle larger software projects and support the development lifecycle more comprehensively.

IDEs typically include advanced features for analyzing code quality.  They often do that by suggesting improvements and facilitating major code refactoring efforts.  These types of capabilities are especially useful in larger projects or teams.

In a team environment with multiple developers, a more robust way of managing projects with multiple files and directories is necessary. Integrating with version control systems like Git to manage changes across a codebase helps streamline the process and reduce errors.

IDEs often take the form of desktop applications (e.g., PyCharm, Visual Studio Code). However, cloud-based IDEs have emerged that offer the flexibility of web-based tools with the power of traditional IDEs.

Python Notebook

A Python notebook is an interactive environment where you can see code, output, visualizations, and narrative text in a single document. This approach is particularly useful for data analysis, scientific research, and teaching, where explanation and visualization alongside code are beneficial.

In Python notebooks, code is written and executed in cells, allowing for incremental development and immediate feedback on each piece of code executed. This cell-based execution is great for experimentation and iterative data exploration.

Notebooks are an excellent tool for presenting research findings or tutorials in a way that’s easily shared and understood by others. By combining code, graphs, charts, and narrative text, even those with no coding background can follow along.


The most popular notebook environments, like Jupyter Notebook and Google Colab, are cloud-based and operate within a web browser. Desktop versions (e.g., nteract) are available. Python Notebooks are designed to be accessible and easy to share.

In a nutshell…

how are they different? Let’s look at what you might use them for (Use Case), how you interact and interface with them, and the feedback loop

What is the use case?

  • Python notebooks are best suited for data exploration, analysis, and instructional purposes, where visualizations and narrative explanations are essential.
  • IDEs are geared towards application development, offering comprehensive coding, debugging, and project management tools.

What is the interface and Interaction?

  • Notebooks offer a linear, cell-based interface conducive to exploration and presentation.
  • IDEs provide a more traditional coding environment optimized for writing and managing complex software projects.

What is the feedback loop?

  • The interactive, cell-based nature of notebooks allows for immediate feedback and visualization, which is ideal for exploratory data analysis.
  • IDEs while they may include interactive debugging tools, are generally more focused on developing and maintaining software applications.


Choosing between a notebook and an IDE depends on your specific needs, project nature, and workflow preferences. If you are interested in the data science approach involving data visualization, exploration, and analysis, notebooks might be the better choice. If you’re interested in writing applications that require comprehensive code management, debugging, and collaboration tools, an IDE is likely more appropriate.

My Choice

I am going to start with Microsoft Code.  I intend to learn how to build applications initially, and I have played around with Visual Studio in the past.  What is your choice?  Let me know in the comments what your choice is.


Author: admin

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