Fitt’s
law scale.  Clicking on small areas of the screen is hard, especially
if your mouse needs to travel over a long distance to get there.

But what is mostly causing this phenomenon is the constant improvement in
pointing devices and techniques that have happened these past years, in order of
discovery:

  • Keyboard shortcuts.  Very important, but hardly used by regular
    users, and sometimes even abandoned by power users because they only work
    well under certain focus conditions.  If you have ever pressed "space",
    expected the document to scroll down and realized that your cursor is in a
    text field, you know what I mean.
     
  • The wheel.  One of the best UI inventions of the past decade. 
    It is by far the most intuitive way to scroll a document and it is
    universally cherished by power and regular users alike.  There is
    simply no way to misunderstand how the wheel works.  Note however that
    it does require certain focus conditions to be met as well, just like
    keyboard shortcuts, but the good news is that you can fix this problem by
    using the same device you are trying to operate (as opposed to keyboard
    shortcuts, which might force you to leave the keyboard, move the mouse,
    click somewhere and then move your hands back to the keyboard).
     
  • The trackpad, which is very efficiently standing in for mouse scrolling
    on laptops.  The trackpad in itself doesn’t really help you scroll
    through a document, but a few innovative ideas have been implemented
    recently by manufacturers that make scrolling with them a breeze, albeit to
    the price of some extra complexity.  I know of two such methods:
     

    This entry was posted on March 29, 2006, 8:07 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

    16 Comments

    • #1 by James Cook on March 29, 2006 - 9:17 am

      I imagine you will soon be deluged by Mac users letting you know that OSX supports the grouped arrow icons on a scrollbar. You can even pick which way you want them to appear, grouped or ungrouped. I don’t have a Mac in front of me now, but I believe the default was to group them.

    • #2 by Stefan Tilkov on March 29, 2006 - 9:21 am

      Indeed, the Mac OS X default is that they’re grouped.

    • #3 by Stephan Schmidt on March 29, 2006 - 9:34 am

      Indeed, the Mac OS X default is that they’re grouped.

    • #4 by Ozten on March 29, 2006 - 10:06 am

      2 out of 3 mac os x users agree:
      Arrows are grouped and my name is a fancy-pants spelling of Steven.
      Now if only I changed my name, I could get the new MacBook.

    • #5 by Ryan Tyer on March 29, 2006 - 1:07 pm

      I almost always click and drag the actual scroll bar itself when I scroll through a document. Also, clicking the mousewheel in many programs/os allows you to use the mouse to scroll up and down through the document.

    • #6 by eckes on March 29, 2006 - 1:19 pm

      I do use the arrows, especially with s glidepad on the notbook for scrolling line/item-by-line/item through a list (for example the list of rss feeds). Because the click button is less sensitive to uncontroled movement this is a good feedback to “acknowledge” that one has seen a line.
      On the Desktop i prefer wheel of keys.

    • #7 by nono on March 29, 2006 - 1:30 pm

      To me the mouse is dead!
      Only reason for me to use the mouse if when I’m doing some serious DTP (Quark XPress running on an old pre-OS X Mac G3). For all the rest there’s the keyboard. Fear that developer looking over your shoulder and saying “your IDE is nice, but it looks like you need to use the mouse”.
      🙂
      Seriously, shortcuts when they’re available (“one screen up”, “one screen down”, “center on cursor”, these kind of things). A little Emacs plugin does wonder to most IDEs in this respect. And the scrollwheel (on a 2 buttons + scrollwheel Logitech mouse) when the app doesn’t support convenient shortcuts.
      That said I do think that for anything non-graphical the mouse is an anti-pattern and it’s a sad fact that so many non-graphical app rely on it.
      I use “virtual desktops” (seven of them) with usually one app opened in “full screen” per virtual desktop and when there’s more than one app (eg terminals) I use alt-tab to switch between them (and then I use the application’s shortcut to do stuff or the mouse if it the only way).

    • #8 by cooper on March 29, 2006 - 1:41 pm

      I don’t know, maybe I am the only one but — to use the Homer Simposonism — My keyboard has Pig Up and Pig Down. I find they still work well after all these years 😛

    • #9 by Gordon J Milne on March 29, 2006 - 1:43 pm

      I am clearly a power user since I almost exclusively use the scroll wheel to move up and down documents alongside the PageUP and PageDown keys. Prior to the scroll wheel,I used to click in the grey area of the scrollbar to move a screen at a time.
      I would argue that the majority of users would not even think of doing any of these things. They have been trained to use the up/down scroll buttons on the scroll bar.
      If I could have 10 dollars for every time I have looked over a friend or colleagues shoulder and see them clicking those up/down icons, I would be a very rich man indeed.
      If I had another 10 bucks for every time I saw some one trying to ‘rapidly’ scroll through a document by repeatedly clicking those icons, I would be an even richer man.
      Somehow, all those UI innovations have been lost on those whose daily use of a computer is as a tool. All those little innovations that you and I appreciate (the scroll wheel, the keyboard accelerators) are, to a great extent, wasted on the vast majority of our users.
      I find it amazing that the vast unwashed [out there] do not see the value in learning that ‘cut’ is ctrl-x, ‘copy’ is ctrl-c and ‘paste’ is ctrl-x. Yet they spend their days making their mouse travel kilometers up and down to the toolbar.
      I appreciate all these little innovations but they are lost on the greater community of computer users. It would appear that the more eye candy we create the more it gets used and the lower our productivity gets.
      Can anyone argue that UI changes in the last 5 years have made the wider community of computer users ‘more’ productive?
      I doubt it.
      So, having the arrow icons together is a great idea, but almost everyone will get annoyed at the change since it isn’t ‘standard’. They just won’t get it.
      Such is the human condition.

    • #10 by scott on March 29, 2006 - 2:01 pm

      There’s also the mouse stick (IBM thinkpads, etc.) that can scroll if you hold down the shift key while pushing the mouse stick up or down.

    • #11 by RichB on March 29, 2006 - 10:43 pm

      Can I point out a useful alternative to grouping scrollbar buttons together. RISC OS uses the right mouse button to reverse the direction of travel of the scrollbar when you click on an arrow. This could be integrated into Windows with no side effects – infact at least one company (Xara) does this with their product (Xara Xtreme).
      Oh – and RISC OS had proportional scrollbars in 1991 😉

    • #12 by RichB on March 29, 2006 - 10:43 pm

      Can I point out a useful alternative to grouping scrollbar buttons together. RISC OS uses the right mouse button to reverse the direction of travel of the scrollbar when you click on an arrow. This could be integrated into Windows with no side effects – infact at least one company (Xara) does this with their product (Xara Xtreme).
      Oh – and RISC OS had proportional scrollbars in 1991 😉

    • #13 by Jon Mountjoy on March 29, 2006 - 11:56 pm

      I’ve used the two finger scroll on my PowerBook trackpad for the past year, and now I can’t stand to use a standard keyboard anymore. I read a lot, so I scroll a lot – and the two finger scroll is just natural. It scrolls horizontally too. This is a market opportunity – keyboards with built in natural scroll devices. They must exist….

    • #14 by Anonymous on March 30, 2006 - 1:21 am

      Talking about UI (ok this is really unrelated).
      The fact that there is no confirmation when you post a comment here, and you don’t see your comment added makes us stupid readers post the same comment several times 🙂

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