Touchpad Scrolling

I’ve only switched to a touchpad within the last few years, and only then when faced with the clear superiority of Apple’s product. I’ve grown so enamored of multitouch gestures that I even have a touchpad for the desktop, sitting alongside my mouse, which I use mostly for browsing.

There are programs out there that allow you to customize your systemwide gestures, but I’ve always been kind of a purist when it comes to input solutions. I’d rather learn to use what ‘the masses’ use, so I’m equally at home on someone’s stock install as I am on my highly customized one. Recent self discovery has made me rethink my position a bit, but I digress.

Up or Down

With the release of OSX Lion, millions of people are quickly discovering that scrolling with the trackpad doesn’t work like it used to. In fact, it works opposite. Years of scrolling with the touchpad, in multiple OSs, has taught us that dragging your fingers top to bottom should scroll the page down, and dragging your fingers bottom to top should scroll the page up. Amusingly, on all iOS devices, the opposite is true. With a touchscreen, you grab and drag the page with your finger. Thus, dragging bottom to top scrolls the page down by pushing the content up and off the screen. Apple has decided to force this scrolling paradigm on its OSX users, and I can’t say I disagree with them. Honestly it takes all of a day to get used to the new direction; Your brain is quick to adapt.

The exception, of course, is if you have to use another computer: An older copy of OSX, or a Windows machine where the scroll directions are now ‘backwards’. Your brain can compensate with a little difficulty, but its confusing to go back and forth every day. The simple solution is to swap your Mac to match the Windows default, but this causes problems moving forward. If you spend a lot of time working on different Macs, you’re going to spend a lot of time being annoyed with the scroll direction. You can of course change the Windows scroll direction to match the Mac default, but you’re going to have the same problems if you end up working on a lot of different Windows machines. The best solution (other than waiting for Microsoft to mirror Apple’s change, or waiting for Apple to capitulate and change back), is to just pick what world you spend most of your time in, and set your scroll directions to give you the least amount of change.

My roommate had this very problem, but was unable to change his Windows scroll direction. His mouse driver didn’t support it, and he lacked the registry access necessary to flip the proper bit. I wrote a fix for him in my head a few seconds after he complained about it:


Running this script in AutoHotkey reverses the scroll direction for almost all cases (ignoring a few games that grab low level mouse input).

Backwards or Forwards

In addition to the scroll direction changes, OSX also changed the default forward/backwards direction for webpages in Safari. Before, three fingers right to left would go backwards a page, and three fingers left to right would move you forward a page. Now, two fingers right to left moves you forward a page (by pushing the old page offscreen), and two fingers left to right moves you backwards a page. My big problem here is with Apple’s Finder application. Two finger forward/backwards does not work, and instead scrolls around the content in the window. Honestly, this is exactly what I want and would expect, but it breaks rank with Safari.

Two Fingers or Three

To make matters even more confusing, there is an option to enable the old 3 finger scrolling gesture, which then allows Finder and Safari to both support 3 finger scrolling in the same direction: the old one. Apparently 3 finger scrolling ignores the systemwide scroll reversal option. There’s also a 2 and 3 finger option that allows you to use both gestures, but it ends up being an ungainly mess. You end up scrolling backwards with 3 fingers, forwards with 2.


Honestly I’m not sure what they were thinking here. Consistency is one thing I value highly, and this is anything but. For now, I’ve accepted reverse up/down scrolling, but I’ve kept backwards left/right 3 finger scrolling. A mess to be sure, but its the smallest mess I could make.

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