Usability expert Jakob Nielson says the rise of WYSIWYG over the past 20 years has been useful, but may be reaching the end of its life cycle in favor of WYGIWYS (What You Get Is What You See)-oriented interfaces. The idea is that rather than starting with a blank slate (document) and issuing commands to reach a result (chipping away until you have your statue), WYGIWYS software will provide thumbnail galleries that display formatting states and sub-states, allowing the user to select results, applying it to their existing content.
The idea makes a certain amount of sense, but I’m having trouble visualizing how WYGIWYS tools could offer complete control — it seems that formatting results would be limited to the gallery of states built into the software by the developer. Sure, the galleries could be customizable, but then you’d be back where you started. I can see an increase in use of the “Project Galleries” built into current versions of Office and extended to options applicable at the paragraph or even character level, but I can’t imagine menus and toolbars going away, as Nielson predicts. There’s a whole lot more to software than formatting — to make this idea work, you have to be able to visualize presenting “results first” for things like word count, spell check, inserting database records or video clips, yadda yadda.
Total control is precisely what makes free-form software so empowering (and the command-line even more so). I’m having trouble visualizing how a results-first approach could do anything but strip control (i.e. empowerment) away from the user.