What I hate about WYSIWYG

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This blog seems like it's turning into “Things I Hate”… Whatever…

So I was posting chapters of my Web Novel Crystal Down to Scribble Hub when I ran into a wall that is the WYSIWYG Editor they have. I was not exactly over the moon to learn they don't have a non-WYSIWYG alternative. Why do hate that?

What is WYSIWYG?

WYSIWYG is an acronym for “What You See Is What You Get”. The idea is in the name. A common word processor like Word or LibreOffice Writer is a typical case of a WYSIWYG editor. But there are problems, lots of them.

You don't get what you see!

Yes, most of the times, you usually don't get what you see. That's just how things are. When you can try to make sure it's close enough, that's not much of a problem. Sometimes you even want the product to look different, e. g. eBooks need to be able to reflow.

But the problems start when the product deviates when it shouldn't. Fixing those problems is in the range from easy in a few clicks up to impossible. Why? Because you don't have that much control over it.

You don't have control

Part of being a techie is being somewhat in control. And a non-behaving WYSIWYG editor is the opposite of being in control. OK, part of the problem is people not properly using the tools they have. Staying with word processors, people aligning text manually using spaces and newlines… People not using headers, but instead manually styling text to look like one etc. To help with that, modern software just makes guesses what you actually want to do, which can go horribly wrong as well.

But even if you do use it properly, you still run into problems when you don't have control. A typical problem I run into is adding in text after a link. Usually, the text I add becomes part of the link. That's not what I wanted!

Some features are impossible with WYSIWYG

Yes, some features are impossible with WYSIWYG. It might be possible with more professional software, but then you would need to learn to use that software! Not to mention getting access to that software.

Do you want custom JavaScript in a certain Web Page? That's not that easy. At that point you're off to work on some low level stuff which the editor might just discard… Assuming, of course, you even have that possibility…


WYSIWYM — What You See Is What You Mean — is not the be all and end all. First, you need to be able to express yourself for the computer to understand what you want. So it's back to be able to use the tools.

Plus, you need to be able to get your head around separating content from view — something that is not that easy to get into. Some things are just bound to certain content, like links.

Markdown seems like a good thing. As a techie, it just feels natural to me. Not too complex as writing HTML or LaTeX but powerful enough for lots of things. With Attribute List support, you even can have the extra control you need it. But not all people feel like that.

Sometimes, using a WYSIWYG editor is just better. Usually, if your project is small or simple, WYSIWYG editor is just fine, and faster. If I need to hang a simple sign, I don't start a LaTeX document or some fancy design software, I just use a simple word processor. 

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