For other uses, see WYSIWYG (disambiguation).

WYSIWYG (/ˈwɪziwɪɡ/ WIZ-ee-wig)[1] is an acronym for "what you see is what you get". In computing, a WYSIWYG editor is a system in which content (text and graphics) can be edited in a form closely resembling its appearance when printed or displayed as a finished product,[2] such as a printed document, web page, or slide presentation.


The program on the left uses a WYSIWYG editor to produce a Lorem Ipsum document. The program on the right contains LaTeX code, which when compiled will produce a document that will look very similar to the document on the left. Compilation of formatting code is not a WYSIWYG process.

WYSIWYG implies a user interface that allows the user to view something very similar to the end result while the document is being created.[3] In general, WYSIWYG implies the ability to directly manipulate the layout of a document without having to type or remember names of layout commands.[4] The actual meaning depends on the user's perspective, e.g.

Modern software does a good job of optimizing the screen display for a particular type of output. For example, a word processor is optimized for output to a typical printer. The software often emulates the resolution of the printer in order to get as close as possible to WYSIWYG. However, that is not the main attraction of WYSIWYG, which is the ability of the user to be able to visualize what they are producing.

In many situations, the subtle differences between what the user sees and what the user gets are unimportant. In fact, applications may offer multiple WYSIWYG modes with different levels of "realism", including


Compound document displayed on Xerox 8010 Star system

Before the adoption of WYSIWYG techniques, text appeared in editors using the system standard typeface and style with little indication of layout (margins, spacing, etc.). Users were required to enter special non-printing control codes (now referred to as markup code tags) to indicate that some text should be in boldface, italics, or a different typeface or size. In this environment there was very little distinction between text editors and word processors.

These applications typically used an arbitrary markup language to define the codes/tags. Each program had its own special way to format a document, and it was a difficult and time-consuming process to change from one word processor to another.

The use of markup tags and codes remains popular today in some applications due to their ability to store complex formatting information. When the tags are made visible in the editor, however, they occupy space in the unformatted text and so disrupt the desired layout and flow.

Bravo, a document preparation program for the Alto produced at Xerox PARC by Butler Lampson, Charles Simonyi and colleagues in 1974, is generally considered the first program to incorporate WYSIWYG technology,[6] displaying text with formatting (e.g. with justification, fonts, and proportional spacing of characters).[7] The Alto monitor (72 PPI) was designed so that one full page of text could be seen and then printed on the first laser printers. When the text was laid out on the screen, 72 PPI font metric files were used, but when printed 300 PPI files were used—thus one would occasionally find characters and words slightly off, a problem that continues to this day. (72 PPI came from a new measure of 72 "PostScript points" per inch. Prior to this, the standard measure of 72.27 points per inch was used in typeface design, graphic design, typesetting and printing.)

Bravo was released commercially and the software eventually included in the Xerox Star can be seen as a direct descendant of it.[8]

In parallel with but independent of the work at Xerox PARC, Hewlett Packard developed and released in late 1978 the first commercial WYSIWYG software application for producing overhead slides or what today are called presentation graphics. The first release, named BRUNO (after an HP sales training puppet), ran on the HP 1000 minicomputer taking advantage of HP's first bitmapped computer terminal the HP 2640. BRUNO was then ported to the HP-3000 and re-released as "HP Draw".

By 1981 MicroPro advertised that its WordStar word processor had WYSIWYG,[9] but its display was limited to displaying styled text in WYSIWYG fashion; bold and italic text would be represented on screen instead of surrounded by tags or special control characters.[10] In 1983 the Weekly Reader advertised its Stickybear educational software with the slogan "what you see is what you get", with photographs of its Apple II graphics,[11] but home computers of the 1970s and early 1980s lacked the sophisticated graphics capabilities necessary to display WYSIWYG documents, meaning that such applications were usually confined to limited-purpose, high-end workstations (such as the IBM Displaywriter System) that were too expensive for the general public to afford. Towards the mid-1980s, however, things began to change. Improving technology allowed the production of cheaper bitmapped displays, and WYSIWYG software started to appear for more popular computers, including LisaWrite for the Apple Lisa, released in 1983, and MacWrite for the Apple Macintosh, released in 1984.

The Apple Macintosh system was originally designed so that the screen resolution and the resolution of the ImageWriter dot-matrix printers sold by Apple were easily scaled: 72 PPI for the screen and 144 DPI for the printers. Thus, the scale and dimensions of the on-screen display in programs such as MacWrite and MacPaint were easily translated to the printed output—if the paper were held up to the screen, the printed image would be the same size as the on screen image, but at a higher resolution. As the ImageWriter was the only model of printer physically compatible with the Macintosh printer port, this created an effective, closed system. Later, when Macs using external displays became available, the resolution was fixed to the size of the screen to achieve 72 DPI. These resolutions often differed from the VGA-standard resolutions common in the PC world at the time. Thus, while a Macintosh 15" monitor had the same 640x480 resolution as a PC, a 16" screen would be fixed at 832x624 rather than the 800x600 resolution used by PCs. With the introduction of third-party dot-matrix printers as well as laser printers and multisync monitors, resolutions deviated from even multiples of the screen resolution, making true WYSIWYG harder to achieve.

In 2012, Wikipedia offered a WYSIWYG editor called VisualEditor, which allowed edits of Wikipedia to be performed without seeing the page source.[12]


The phrase "what you see is what you get", from which the acronym derives, was a catchphrase popularized by Flip Wilson's drag persona Geraldine, first appearing in September 1969, then regularly in the early 1970s on The Flip Wilson Show. The phrase was a statement demanding acceptance of Geraldine's entire personality and appearance.

As it relates to computing, there are multiple claims to first use of the phrase:


Because designers of WYSIWYG applications typically have to account for a variety of different output devices, each of which has different capabilities, there are a number of problems that must be solved in each implementation. These can be seen as tradeoffs between multiple design goals, and hence applications that use different solutions may be suitable for different purposes.

Typically, the design goals of a WYSIWYG application may include the following:

It is not usually possible to achieve all of these goals at once.

The major problem to be overcome is that of varying output resolution. As of 2016, monitors typically have a resolution of between 102 and 125 pixels per inch. Printers generally have resolutions between 240 and 1440 pixels per inch; in some printers the horizontal resolution is different from the vertical. This becomes a problem when trying to lay out text; because older output technologies require the spacing between characters to be a whole number of pixels, rounding errors will cause the same text to require different amounts of space in different resolutions.

Solutions to this include the following:

Other problems that have been faced in the past include differences in the fonts used by the printer and the on-screen display (largely solved by the use of downloadable font technologies like TrueType) and differences in color profiles between devices (mostly solved by printer drivers with good color model conversion software).

Apart from these issues, the practice of WYSIWYG itself has been condemned as distracting from the writing process.[18]

Many variations are used only to illustrate a point or make a joke, and have very limited real use. Some that have been proposed include the following:

See also


  1. "Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)". Retrieved 9 November 2007.
  2. "Oxford English Dictionary: WYSIWYG". Oxford University Press.
  3. "WYSIWYG Website Builders for Online Business". 15 December 2015. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  4. 1 2 3 Howe, Denis (3 March 1999). "What You See Is What You Get". FOLDOC. Retrieved 7 January 2011.
  5. Chamberlain, Donald D. "Document convergence in an interactive formatting system" (PDF). IBM Journal of Research and Development. 31 (1): 59. doi:10.1147/rd.311.0058. Retrieved 6 May 2008.
  6. "Computing Now".
  7. http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/10/18/the-real-history-of-wysiwyg/?_r=0
  8. Brad A. Myers. A Brief History of Human Computer Interaction Technology. ACM interactions. Vol. 5, no. 2, March, 1998. pp. 44–54.
  9. Advertisement (March 1981). "Can your word processor pass this screen test?". BYTE. p. 269. Retrieved 18 October 2013.
  10. "In the beginning, there was the word processor".
  11. "What You See Is What You Get.". Softline (advertisement). 1983-01. pp. 10–11. Retrieved 27 July 2014. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  12. "Wikimedia releases updated prototype for simplified visual editor - The Verge". The Verge. 22 June 2012. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  13. Hiltzik, Michael (1999). Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age. HarperBusiness. p. 200. ISBN 0-88730-891-0.
  14. Lohr, Steve (2001). Go To. Basic Books. p. 128. ISBN 0-465-04226-0.
  15. Flynn, Peter (2014). Human Interfaces to Structured Documents (PDF) (Thesis). Ireland: University College Cork. p. 40 footnote 10.
  16. Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 1998
  17. "Find Out More About WYSIWYG Web Builders". WebBuildersGuide. 15 March 2015. Retrieved 7 September 2015.
  18. "Word Processors: Stupid and Inefficient".
  19. Howe, Denis (3 March 1999). "What You See Is All You Get". FOLDOC. Retrieved 7 January 2011.
  20. "Crouching Error, Hidden Markup". September 2001. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  21. "MFSA 2007-24 Unauthorized access to wyciwyg:// documents". Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  22. "Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox, October 10, 2005 "R.I.P. WYSIWYG"". Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  23. "Welcome to GNU TeXmacs (FSF GNU project)". texmacs.org.
  24. Raymond, Eric S. (1996). The New Hacker's dictionary (3rd ed.). MIT Press. p. 497. ISBN 0-262-68092-0.
  25. Eric S. Raymond (ed). "The Jargon File 4.4.7: YAFIYGI".
  26. "Real Programmers Don't Use Pascal". (originally published in Datamation vol 29 no. 7, July 1983)
  27. Howe, Denis (13 March 1995). "What You See Is All You Get". FOLDOC. Retrieved 7 January 2011.
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