In computing, WYSIWYG (/ˈwɪziwɪɡ/ WIZ-ee-wig), an acronym for what you see is what you get,[1] refers to software that allows content to be edited in a form that resembles its appearance when printed or displayed as a finished product,[2] such as a printed document, web page, or slide presentation. WYSIWYG implies a user interface that allows the user to view something very similar to the 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]



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 as a result can 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 to be the first program to incorporate the WYSIWYG technology,[5] displaying text with formatting (e.g. with justification, fonts, and proportional spacing of characters).[6] The Alto monitor (72 PPI, based on the typographic unit) 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. As a result, one would occasionally find characters and words that are slightly off—a problem that would continue up to this day.

Bravo was released commercially, and the software eventually included in the Xerox Star can be seen as a direct descendant of it.[7]

In late 1978, in parallel with but independent of the work at Xerox PARC, Hewlett-Packard developed and released the first commercial WYSIWYG software application for producing overhead slides (or what today are referred to as presentation graphics). The first release, named BRUNO (after an HP sales training puppet), ran on the HP 1000 minicomputer, taking advantage of HP 2640—HP's first bitmapped computer terminal. BRUNO was then ported to the HP-3000 and re-released as "HP Draw".[8]

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 being 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. As improving technology allowed the production of cheaper bitmapped displays, WYSIWYG software started to appear in more popular computers, including LisaWrite for the Apple Lisa, released in 1983, and MacWrite for the Apple Macintosh, released in 1984.[12]

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 twice the 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-inch (38 cm) monitor had the same 640 × 480 resolution as a PC, a 16-inch (41 cm) screen would be fixed at 832 × 624 rather than the 800 × 600 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.[13]



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:

  • Around 1974, Karen Thacker, the technophobe wife of Xerox hardware designer Charles "Chuck" Thacker, was introduced to a Xerox Alto running Bravo, and commented, "You mean, what I see is what I get?"[14]
  • In mid-1975, John W. Seybold, the founder of Seybold Publications, and researchers at PARC, incorporated Gypsy software into Bravo to create Bravo 3, which allowed text to be printed as displayed. Charles Simonyi and the other engineers appropriated Flip Wilson's popular phrase around that time.[15][16]
  • Barbara Beeton reports that the term was coined by Bill Tunnicliffe, in a presentation at a 1978 committee meeting involving the Graphic Communications Association (GCA), the American Mathematical Society (AMS), and the Printing Industries of America (PIA).[17]



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:

  • WYGIWYG; what you get is what you get, often used in a similar way to WYSIAYG, WYSIMOLWYG, or WYSINWYW.[18]
  • WYGIWYS, what you get is what you see, used in computing to describe an interaction paradigm in results-oriented user interface. The term was used by Jakob Nielsen to describe Microsoft Office 2007's "Ribbon" interface[19]
  • WYSIAWYG; what you see is almost what you get, similar to WYSIMOLWYG.[4]
  • WYSIAYG, what you see is all you get, used to point out that advanced users are sometimes limited by the user interface.[20]
  • WYSIMOLWYG, what you see is more or less what you get, recognizing that most WYSIWYG implementations are imperfect.[4]
  • WYSINWYW, what you see is not what you want, suggesting that Microsoft Word often controls the user, not the other way around[21]
  • WYSIWYW, what you see is what you want, used to describe GNU TeXmacs editing platform.[22] The abbreviation clarifies that unlike in WYSIWYG editors, the user is able to customize WYSIWYW platforms to act (possibly in part) as manual typesetting programs such as TeX or troff.
  • WYTIWYG, what you think is what you get, found in Ward Cunninghams Wiki, the first user-editable website meaning: "What we look for is often what we find.",[23] Used as a principle for WackoWiki markup, meaning that "formatted output actually looks like you expect it to look" [24]
  • YAFIYGI, you asked for it you got it, used to describe a text-command oriented document editing system that does not include WYSIWYG, in reference to the fact that users of such systems often ask for something they did not really want. It is considered to be the opposite of WYSIWYG.[25] The phrase was first used in this context in 1983 in the essay Real Programmers Don't Use Pascal to describe the TECO text editor system, and began to be abbreviated circa 1993.[26][27][28]

See also



  1. ^ " Unabridged (v 1.1)". Archived from the original on 30 November 2007. Retrieved 9 November 2007.
  2. ^ "Oxford English Dictionary: WYSIWYG". Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 31 January 2013.
  3. ^ "WYSIWYG Website Builders for Online Business". HuffPost. 15 December 2015. Archived from the original on 16 December 2015.
  4. ^ a b c Howe, Denis (3 March 1999). "What You See Is What You Get". FOLDOC. Archived from the original on 5 November 2010. Retrieved 7 January 2011.
  5. ^ "Computing Now". Archived from the original on 7 October 2016. Retrieved 22 September 2016.
  6. ^ Markoff, John (18 October 2007). "The Real History of WYSIWYG". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 15 February 2017. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  7. ^ Brad A. Myers. A Brief History of Human Computer Interaction Technology. Archived 18 June 2019 at the Wayback Machine ACM interactions. Vol. 5, no. 2, March, 1998. pp. 44–54.
  8. ^ "Hewlett Packard: Computer Focus" (PDF). HP Computer Museum. September 1985. Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 September 2016. Retrieved 24 July 2019.
  9. ^ Advertisement (March 1981). "Can your word processor pass this screen test?". BYTE. p. 269. Archived from the original on 31 August 2014. Retrieved 18 October 2013.
  10. ^ "In the beginning, there was the word processor". ZDNet. Archived from the original on 23 September 2016. Retrieved 22 September 2016.
  11. ^ "What You See Is What You Get". Softline (advertisement). January 1983. pp. 10–11. Archived from the original on 3 July 2014. Retrieved 27 July 2014.
  12. ^ Apple Computer, Claris (1984), MacWrite, archived from the original on 7 March 2019, retrieved 24 July 2019
  13. ^ "WYSIWYG History, Etymology, Variations, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia". Wiki. Retrieved 21 March 2022.
  14. ^ Markoff, John (18 October 2007). "The Real History of WYSIWYG". Bits Blog. Archived from the original on 1 August 2018. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  15. ^ Hiltzik, Michael (1999). Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age. HarperBusiness. p. 200. ISBN 0-88730-891-0.
  16. ^ Lohr, Steve (2001). Go To. Basic Books. p. 128. ISBN 0-465-04226-0.
  17. ^ Flynn, Peter (2014). Human Interfaces to Structured Documents (PDF) (Thesis). Ireland: University College Cork. p. 40 footnote 10. Archived (PDF) from the original on 11 March 2016. Retrieved 10 March 2016.
  18. ^ "WYGIWYG". Archived from the original on 10 September 2015. Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  19. ^ "Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox, October 10, 2005 "R.I.P. WYSIWYG"". Archived from the original on 31 July 2012. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  20. ^ Howe, Denis (3 March 1999). "What You See Is All You Get". FOLDOC. Archived from the original on 5 November 2010. Retrieved 7 January 2011.
  21. ^ Holmes, W. N. (September 2001). "Crouching Error, Hidden Markup". Computer. 34 (9): 128, 126–127. doi:10.1109/2.947101. Archived from the original on 12 July 2017. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  22. ^ "Welcome to GNU TeXmacs (FSF GNU project)". Archived from the original on 11 February 2013. Retrieved 18 November 2019.
  23. ^ Ward Cunningham (ed.). "". Archived from the original on 24 April 2021. Retrieved 9 March 2023.
  24. ^ "". Retrieved 9 March 2023.
  25. ^ Raymond, Eric S. (1996). The New Hacker's dictionary (3rd ed.). MIT Press. p. 497. ISBN 0-262-68092-0.
  26. ^ Eric S. Raymond (ed.). "The Jargon File 4.4.7: YAFIYGI". Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 6 September 2009.
  27. ^ "Real Programmers Don't Use Pascal". Archived from the original on 18 December 2008. Retrieved 9 December 2008. (originally published in Datamation vol 29 no. 7, July 1983)
  28. ^ Howe, Denis (13 March 1995). "What You See Is All You Get". FOLDOC. Archived from the original on 21 June 2010. Retrieved 7 January 2011.