Getting used to reverse (natural) scrolling in OSx Lion...

by Jim Cho 12. September 2011 15:12

I was introduced to scroll bars back in the days of Windows 3.1. I remember feeling kind of disoriented by having to move the scroll-bar down for the page to scroll up. I thought that it should be the other way around. I wanted the scroll-bar to be like a handle for the page, a narrow strip which was part of the page, and move it exactly as if you were gripping the page.

It took a few moments for me to realize how it actually worked. That the scroll-bar was actually a representation of the entire length of the document, and that the scroll-handle was a representation of the current “window” of the entire scroll. So you actually moved the logical window and the scroll remained stationary, just as if you were reading a book with a magnifying glass. As you move the magnifying glass down, the page would scroll up. The scroll-bar is basically controlling that magnifying glass.

Regardless of the logical representation of what a scroll-bar was, my brain became accustomed to scrolling in the opposite direction of the page travel. When the scroll-wheel was introduced, it became natural to follow the same direction. But there are subtle differences with the scroll wheel. For one, you have the mouse positioned over the page, not the scroll-bar. Second, the scroll wheel moves the page at a constant velocity (usually 3 lines per notch), instead of a relative distance of the entire length of the document, which the scroll-bar represents. This is the time we should have made the switch to scrolling in the same direction as the page. It would have made logical sense, but would have thrown many users into a fit, because they are so used to scrolling in the opposite direction.

So now with the iPad, with it's touch interface, it makes no sense to use a scroll-bar since we can just grab the page and move it in whatever direction we want. The scroll bar is only shown as a reference when you start scrolling. You can't actually grab it.

With Lion, Apple is beginning to move toward a more consistent touch interface, though they still have a ways to go. The change that everyone seems to hate is the scrolling which really is the way it should have been since the scroll wheel was introduced. Steve Jobs says to try it for a week, and it will just click. Your brain will make the switch. It has actually taken me about 2 weeks, mainly because my brain is older and less malleable than it used to be when I was first introduced to scrolling.

The only way I could accomplish the switch was to convert every Windows machine that I work with to reverse scrolling. And then whenever I used the scroll wheel, I would say to myself “you're grabbing the page”. It takes a lot of stubborn perseverance and idealism to make the switch, but it can be done.

Now I only wish the Apple would add the new back-swipe gesture in the Lion version of Safari, the 2-finger sideways swipe to go back, to every other application that has a back button. It is such a cool feature that I find myself trying to use it everywhere instead of a back button, including when I'm using the iPad.


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