What You See Is What You Get

Commonly abbreviated as WYSIWYG (or WysiWyg as a WikiWord): The text you see on the screen looks just what it will look like when printed. Titles can be in a big bold font, important words are bold. A good example of a WYSIWYG editor on a wiki can be found at http://www.seedwiki.com/ (Right now, the WYSIWYG editor only works with InternetExplorer 4.0 and later. Once the different JavaScript standards start converging with each other, we'll have a universal wiki-based WYSIWYG editor, until then, the NetScape and OperaBrowser users can always use the standard SeedWiki text editor.)

Compare this with a MarkupLanguage such as HTML or LaTeX: titles and important words are tagged. The tags are little pieces of text that don't usually appear in the printed output; rather, they control what the printed output will look like. Examples are <b>bold words</b> or <strong>strong words</strong>. Note the difference between the <b> and the <strong> tag: <b> marks bold text, i.e. there is a one-to-one correspondence between the tag and the printed output. <strong> is logical markup - it doesn't tell you what the printed output looks like, it just tells you that the enclosed text is very important. If it were less important, you'd use <em>emphasized words</em>.

Note the levels of indirection: WYSIWYG has no levels of indirection. The text you see is printed. Markup languages have either one level of indirection (the tags tell you how certain parts of the text will look when printed) or two levels of indirection (the tags tell you something about the intent of the author, but how the text is printed depends on the output device).

This has certain ramifications: If you have text with markup, you need an additional program that transforms what you see into what you will get eventually. Your browser will thus render the HTML and the browser output is what you get. You are not getting the HTML itself.

By way of contrast (not:), with a WYSIWYG word.document you have text and an additional secret markup language, and you need a specific additional program that transforms what you don't see into what you will get eventually. Your specific additional program (word processor) will thus render the *.doc and the word processor output is what you get. You are not getting the DOC itself. If you want to see the *.doc itself open a document with vi.

Clearly, there is a SeparationOfConcerns here. MicrosoftWord is a WYSIWYG word processor; display and preparation for printing are handled by the same program. HTML is written using a TextEditor like Notepad or Emacs (see CategoryEmacs), and displayed and printed using your browser. Two different programs.

The use of two different programs is sometimes viewed as a flaw. That's why there are HTML editors that help you write HTML but present you with a WYSIWYG representation of what you are doing. They essentially contain both an editor and a browser.

WYSIWYG is not too popular with the geek/hacker/programmer crowds. They like vi, emacs, ...

Obviously some of these problems can be solved in WYSIWYG environments:

LyX (LyEks) can be found at http://www.lyx.org/

Bottom Line(s)

Postscript: (no, not that one)

I worked for Alphatype Corporation, at one time the world's largest font foundry. They made phototypesetting equipment and typesetting editors. The final nail in Alphatype's coffin was the early 90s introduction of PC based WYSIWYG typesetting editors. The statement above about WYSIWYG editors not delivering good typeset quality is in error; Alphatype even had one of their own. However, the PC software vendors were kicking Alphatype's ass in the areas of functionality and ease of use, not to mention being less than a tenth of the cost.

It is true that early PC based typesetting packages weren't up to the quality expectation of advertising typography houses, but that quickly changed when the software vendors figured out how to use and properly render True Type and other vectorized fonts. Suddenly, any fool with a PC and a $300 software package could produce advertising grade typography. Alphatype got its head handed to them.

Today's PC based WYSIWYG word processor/typesetters are even better. Not that I am any kind of Microsoft fan - I'm certainly not. However, it is quite impossible to beat the value in word processing/typesetting that one gets from the MicrosoftWord package. Oh, well.

But typsetting isn't just fonts. And for the rest, MS Word still doesn't even hold a candle to TeX, let alone professional typsetting systems. I have never seen a book done in Word that didn't look like the dogs breakfast.

I realize that typography is about more than fonts and rendering. Issues like color, margins, kerning, leading, rivers, etc. all play into it. And yes, a specialized typesetter is going to outperform a general purpose word processor when it comes to these technical details. However, packages like Word continue to offer the best performance per dollar and lowest barrier to learning that you are going to get. Don't poo-poo PC based packages just because they aren't aimed at typesetting tasks. WYSIWYG has its place in the modern writing and publishing world. Lots of publications never would have seen the press had it not been for Billy Boy and the tools he has made available to the average Joe.

I disagree. For many types of document in spaces where you actually care about typography (i.e. not desk top publishing strengths), LaTeX is a) easier to use and b) produces better output. People are used to wordprocessors now, so the argument is really about learning something new, not learning something harder. LaTeX is *not* a particularly good typsetting system, since it makes many tradeoffs in favour of ease-of-use, but it is far superior to Word etc. LaTeX runs just fine on PC's, so this isn't a PC vs non-PC issue. If you are writing documents of any serious length, Word is simply not the right tool. I do agree that it is the right tool for many other things. It is great for letters, memos, small uncomplicated documents (for the complicated ones, Frame was years ahead). However, it is a lousy tool for books, large documents, scientific papers, etc.

It would be nice to see examples of professional typesetting jobs such as newsprint, magazines, etc., that have been composed using different tools. Another valid comparison would be the number of labor hours per page needed to prepare documents using these tools. Perhaps someone has a clue how to acquire these kinds of statistics...?

[Should this go on? We need to eliminate the thread mode by refactoring.] Agree.

See WysiwygWiki WhyWhatYouSeeIsWhatYouGetWorksNot

Compare to WhatYouSayIsWhatYouGet? and WhatYouSeeIsAllYouGet?

Contributors: AlexSchroeder, PeteHardie, StephanBranczyk, AlanChristiansen, MartySchrader, JochenGroppe?

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