Rethinking scrolling


The way scrollbars work is pretty inefficient - especially for novice computer users. They offer three (!) methods for scrolling relative to the current position and none of them offers comfortable scrolling speed for all document sizes.

The arrows in the corners are very small compared to the scrollbar's overall size and they are too slow in most cases. Still, a lot of people use the arrows to scroll rather large distances in a document.

The scroll thumb (slider) is too small in big documents and requires too much aiming although it is the fastest and - for moderately-sized documents - a sufficiently accurate way to change your relative position. For very big documents this way of scrolling becomes nearly useless because it moves areas bigger than the visible region.

Scrollbar  basic lookScrollbar basic lookA third alternative is to scroll page-wise by clicking on the non-highlighted area. This is often too coarse-grained and sometimes collides with the thumb which may suddenly appear under the mouse cursor, so you have to adjust your mouse position to continue scrolling that way. Inexperienced users sometimes click on the non-highlighted area to quickly get to a specific location.

The following proposal should be more effective, but it requires an initial training phase because it's different from the current way of scrolling.

The arrows at the top and bottom are not buttons, anymore. Also, they are bigger to make it more obvious that they are part of the scrollbar background. The scroll thumb lights up when the mouse is moved anywhere on the scrollbar (not just the knob). The general appearance of the scrollbars is very similar to that of the current mainstream operating systems.

Left-click scrollingLeft-click scrollingPress and hold the left mouse button on any place on the scrollbar and you get into relative scroll mode. To clarify, you can click on the thumb, or on the arrows, or anywhere else on the scrollbar and it will have the same effect. By moving the mouse you can scroll a proportional amount of screen area in the same direction. The mouse movement causes the thumb to be moved at comfortable speed which is independent of the document size. Mouse movement has no effect on the cursor's position (i.e.: it works as if you could move beyond the screen borders).

Right-click scrollingRight-click scrollingRight-click (tablet users will prefer ALT+left-click) on any place on the scrollbar and you immediately jump to that location in the document. By keeping the mouse button pressed and moving the mouse the thumb will move directly with the mouse pointer as if you had right-clicked there.

When moving the mouse over a scrollbar the cursor becomes a double-arrow (up/down or left/right), so it becomes more obvious that by left-clicking you can move the scroll knob.

Pressing ESC with the mouse button held will bring you back to the last position before scrolling.

This proposal has the disadvantage that the right-click scrolling function is non-obvious and users would have to learn it, so it's not perfect and it could need more work.