WYSIWYG – What You See Is What You Get



A useful historical metaphor to what we are doing at Intentional is to study how WYSIWYG  was adopted:

Selectric typewriter

BEFORE WYSIWYG documents were created by a special role – a typist – that used type writers, and later text editors, to create documents. The content creator, a lawyer, movie director or scientist, reviewed and marked up drafts that were then used by the typist to retype the corrected document.

AFTER WYSIWYG, the content creator created the documents immediately themselves using a WYSIWYG editor. WYSIWYG was an improvement, not just on the tool being used, but on the document creation process itself.



BRAVO was the first WYSIWYG editor developed at Xerox PARC by Butler Lampson, our own Charles Simonyi, and others. Charles Simonyi left Xerox PARC in 1981, when it became clear it would not be a commercially viable product from Xerox, and joined Microsoft to start the Application Group at Microsoft. With BRAVO as the main inspiration, the first product the Application Group shipped, with Charles as manager and chief architect, was Microsoft Word, which became the first commercially viable WYSIWYG editor. For more on the history, Charles elaborated on the early days of WYSIWYG in an earlier blog post.

There is a very strong parallel between WYSIWYG and Intentional Software. The parallel to the content creator of the contract, the movie script, or the scientific article, is the business knowledge domain expert. The parallel to the typist is the software programmer of today (or more accurately, one of the roles of the software programmer). Once the first software implementation exists, the programmers’ job in current industry practices becomes very much like the typists’ job used to be: to do the repetitive work of accommodating the changes, small and large, and to propagate the consequences of the changes in the software code, in effect retyping. This is a highly inefficient process.

WYSIWYG transformed the document creation process by giving content creators direct control of the process. Similarly, Intentional Software intends to transform the creation process of knowledge intensive applications and other work products by giving the business domain experts – the content creators – direct control of the process. WYSIWYG empowered millions of document authors to create great looking documents – it is now time to empower knowledge workers to create great  knowledge products.