IPython Notebook workshop report: still plagued by installation issues

Published on January 25, 2013 by Dr. Randal S. Olson

ipython notebook report workshop

2 min READ

Update (Nov. 2014): IPython Notebook installation has advanced considerably since I originally published this post. Check out the Anaconda Python Distribution for an easy one-click installer for all your Python library needs.

Today I ran a small (~20 person) 1-hour workshop at Michigan State University focusing on installing IPython Notebook and using it as a research notebook. Since I knew it's quite a pain to install IPython Notebook for the first time, I put together a set of installation instructions for both Windows and Mac/Linux and asked the attendees to attempt to install IPython Notebook ahead of time. On top of that, I held a 30-minute session before the workshop dedicated solely to installing IPython Notebook (which admittedly, helped a little bit).

By the end of it, I was able to get through the IPython Notebook demo, and many people seemed excited about using it for their research. Before everyone left, I had the attendees fill out a post-workshop survey to get their opinion on the workshop. In the post-workshop survey, I found some interesting trends in the responses:

  • All but one attendee indicated that they understood how to use IPython Notebook and found its interface intuitive
  • Half of the workshop attendees indicated that they planned to start using IPython Notebook for their research
  • Those that indicated that they don't plan to use IPython Notebook for their research cited installation issues as the primary or secondary reason for not doing so

I think the third trend is the most telling: one of the biggest barriers to the adoption of IPython Notebook is installation issues. This isn't an uncommon observation, either. In my case, despite all of my precautions, the workshop was still plagued by installation issues. At least 1/4 of the workshop attendees had these issues during the workshop, including:

  • Missing libraries being required for the newer version of IPython Notebook that don't come with the installation package (not even EPD) by default
  • IPython Notebook not running in Chrome, only Firefox
  • pandas compatibility issues with the newer version IPython Notebook
  • Newer ipynb files not being backwards-compatible with older IPython Notebook versions

This highlights two key some key issues the IPython community needs to work on before IPython can reach a broader audience: (1) we cannot rely on EPD to maintain a free, update-to-date Python package installer and (2) we need to sort out the IPython installation process and distill it to a single, double-click install file.

UPDATE: Fernando Perez offered some easy installation instructions that seem to have solved the installation issues. I will report on how these work out in an upcoming workshop soon!