About Mu and Thonny

As mentioned in the introduction, while Friendly-traceback can be used on its own with a specially designed REPL, a better option is to use it together with GUI editors/IDE that are especially designed with beginners in mind. We know of two excellent such programs: Mu and Thonny. This documentation includes a specific page for each of these two editors which explain how to use Friendly-traceback. Here, we offer our own opiniated comparison between the two.

About Mu

Mu is a fantastic editor for absolute beginners. Its design philosophy is to enable beginners to download a single program that comes with everything they need to begin their programming journey. However, its creators do acknowledge that users of Mu will likely outgrow it and have to move on to use more advanced tools at some point in their programming journey. This is not a weakness, but rather a strength of Mu.

While Mu can be set up to work in particular context by choosing a mode, once a mode is chosen, very little choice is available to a user: all available actions are possible by clicking a fixed number of buttons, with everything in a single window. This leads to a good user experience for beginners as they don’t have to figure out whether or not option X might be a good additional choice for them.

This can lead to some familiar UI elements (such as “save as” to save a file under a different name) being missed by some.

Mu supports many different human languages (English, French, etc.). However it does so by getting its information from the underlying configuration of the operating system, leaving no choice for the user to select a different language. This is something which is my personal pet peeve and which I hope will be changed in future versions.

About Thonny

Thonny is a fantastic IDE for beginners. In our opinion, it is designed to accompany users further in their learning journey than Mu. In a formal classroom setting, where students learn about computer programming, our recommendation would be to use Thonny rather than Mu as it includes many features specifically designed to support teaching specific programming concepts. For example, users can step through a program and see a new windows opening for each function call: this can really help beginners to understand how recursion works.

Thonny’s UI can be changed, with more elements added, by choosing from a menu. Some advanced configuration options are available via a specific dialog, including the possibility to change the language used for the UI.

There are simply too many features of Thonny to describe here. To find out more, please consult Thonny’s site

Which one to use?

We really encourage you to consult the documentation available online for both editors, and make your own choice. Both are fantastic tools which deserve to be better known.

Our thoughts on which one to use would be the following:

  • For short term learning sessions (“workshops”) with absolute beginners, Mu might be preferable due to its simplicity.

  • For those that are teaching formal courses in computer science to beginners, Thonny would likely be a better choice.