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Put the scroll bar out to pasture already!

By 20 January 2011 2 Comments

After using a Nook Color tablet for the last month (a 7″ Android 2.1 device), it made me realize that the modern desktop operating system (Windows, Mac, and Linux) have very antiquated user interfaces (UI).  The most obnoxious feature that comes immediately to mind is the scroll bar after getting used to the finger based scrolling feature on smartphones and tablets.

I miss how the screen intuitively tracks the finger and the page flies in the direction you flick but slows down due to friction or until the fingers put the brakes on.  This has been routine operation for Apple iPhone (not sure if anyone else did it earlier) since 2007 yet here we are in 2011 and the desktop UI is about as lame as it can be.  As they say, necessity is the mother of invention and the physical limitations of the smartphone forced the UI designers to be innovative.

At least it doesn’t need to be that way anymore for Google’s Chrome browser if you install the “Wet Banana” plugin from Jedediah Smith.  After configuring this plugin for right click drag operation and a friction value of 3, the Chrome browser runs almost as smoothly as a smartphone on a desktop computer with 40 times the computing power and a lighting fast SSD drive.  With the exception of Twitter’s home page which is exceptionally long, most pages scroll somewhat smoothly, so the browser makers are going to have to fix this.  Right click context menus are still functional and it feels completely natural without having to hunt for that scroll bar.  Even if you dragged the traditional scroll bar, not having the physics of momentum, friction, and click to stop makes it useless by comparison.

Now all we need is this feature incorporated at the Operating System level so that the scroll element in every application benefits immediately.  Productivity applications like Microsoft Outlook should scroll like this, folders should scroll like this, everything should scroll (or pan in the case of images) like this.  If you’re using an Apple one-button mouse, throw it in the trash and get a two-button mouse because you won’t ever go back to the scroll bar once you’ve tried this.  I haven’t tried this on a trackpad or trackpoint yet, but it should work better than the traditional scroll bar.

Of course there’s still the missing double-click or double-tap to zoom to the paragraph width and maybe someone can write a plugin for that.  The advertising folks may be upset by this but they’re already dealing with that on the smartphones.  Then again, that probably won’t work for large horizontal LCD displays because the text is already large enough to read without zooming in.  Another feature missing is the pinch zoom which could probably be incorporated using the middle button mouse.  Maybe not all that useful for web surfing but definitely crucial for image surfing.

So what are the desktop OS designers waiting for?  Isn’t a UI upgrade long overdue?  Apple has shown with the iPhone and iPad that synthetic benchmarks don’t matter as much as UI responsiveness.  We don’t need more useless features like 3D flip, we need things that we can use every minute we’re in front of the computer.  The scroll bar is about 30 years old and it’s long overdue that we put it out to pasture.


Actually, an alternative to implementation at the OS level is to implement this feature into the mouse driver!  The user can immediately use this in every application that supports the standard scroll functionality of the existing scroll wheel.  Windows Explorer, Microsoft Outlook, MS Word, or any application will work with a mouse driver.

The scroll wheel on the standard mouse already has two methods of scrolling in Windows.  One, you can roll it.  Two, you can press down and toggle the speed and direction of the page panning.  But neither mode is as intuitive as the Wet Banana plugin where a user flicks it in the desired direction with the desired speed to make it glide until friction stops it or until the user puts the brakes on.

I’ve asked Jedediah Smith and various operating system makers (or anyone) to create a custom Windows and/or Linux mouse driver?  Replace the traditional functionality of the scroll wheel with the exact same physics and behavior of Wet Banana.  The existing mouse driver already has the ability to control the scrolling, direction, and speed. It just needs a better human interface.  I hope someone will meet this need.