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Variable Rate Scroll Bar

Gives you finer control when dragging a scroll bar in a big document.
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(+4, -2)
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I was just reading a really long html page in my browser. When reading a page I usually grab the scroll bar and drag it down the page as I read. Unfortunately, this page was so long that I didn't have the mouse control to keep a reasonable rate of scroll and I ended up jumping several screenfuls at a time. I paged through the document instead. No big deal...

...except that I'm keen on user interfaces and like them to work. I like them to work well. In fact if something isn't intuitive then I start thinking about ways that the interface could be improved. What I came up with was this:

A variable rate scroll bar. When you drag it, the rate at which the bar moves depends on how far away from the scroll bar you position the mouse. Take my example of the long web page. I'd grab the scroll bar at the side of the browser window and by dragging it up and down it would scroll as normal. For every pixel I drag it scrolls the window by a percentage of its total length.

Too fast? I drag the mouse off-axis (to the left or right of the vertical scroll bar) and the amount by which the document is dragged per mouse move decreases. Want to scroll to the end a long document? Click on the vertical scroll bar then drag down. You'll be there in no time. Want to do some fine positioning? Click on the scroll bar and drag left. Your mouse will then do less of a scroll for the same amount of vertical travel.

The visually astute amongst you will have realised by now that the mouse pointer will move across the screen at different rates (for the same movement of the mouse) depending on how far it is positioned from the scroll bar. Yes, that is the case, and those of you that know more about operating system design than I do will probably be able to tell me just how much of a pig this would be to code into an OS.

Finally the look and feel. Well, I can't speak for Windows, but on a Mac it would be nice if the scroll bar got magnified locally by an amount that was relative to the fineness of control you had. Much like the magnification on the OSX dock (which allows to to clearly see which icon you your mouse is over but doesn't increase mouse precision), but instead with magnification that would vary with distance from the scrollbar. Underneath the scroll bar could be tick marks that show what fraction of a screen you would be going though with a move of the mouse. Although nothing would change about the way the mouse physically feels I imagine that dragging a mouse a long way away from a scroll bar would create the impression of moving the mouse through treacle; you have to put more effort (drag it further) to make the same movement on screen.

There... now that's more intuitive.
[looks at annotations.] Apparently not *that* intuitive.

st3f, May 24 2005

Adjustable Scrollbar Settings Adjustable_20Scrollbar_20Settings
Changing the scroll rate globally. [st3f, May 24 2005]

Logarithmic search bar Logarithmic_20search_20bar
Changing the paging rate when you click on the scroll bar. [st3f, May 24 2005]

[link]






       Get a mouse with a wheel... Press the wheel as a button and you have exactly what you're after already... ???
sven3012, May 24 2005
  

       Er... no. That's whole different way of scrolling. Not that there's anything wrong with it but it's not what I'm after.
st3f, May 24 2005
  

       The off-axis part I easily can imagine. Nice and, I think, very intuitive after a moment of experimentation. I'm not even sure that there needs to be visual feedback.
bristolz, May 24 2005
  

       I have seem some apps that use a variable rate scroll bar that works a little differently than you describe. The scroll bar is always centered in the scroll track, and the rate of movement is determined by how far from center you pull the scroller. The further you pull, the faster the scroll. When released, the bar returns to the center position on the track.   

       Picasa is one such app.
waugsqueke, May 24 2005
  

       Mouse with wheel on it already does that and you can make it go as fast or as slow as you want it to.
10clock, May 25 2005
  

       I can picture it now...me, the addict of the printed word, sipping my pint in the scroll bar, unrolling a vintage Jack Vance and savoring his work.
normzone, May 25 2005
  

       "I'm unsure how this idea is different from the existing click and scroll function available with any wheel mouse."   

       One scrolls when you hold the mouse still, the other scrolls when you move the mouse.
st3f, May 25 2005
  

       I really don't want this to be a PC/Mac war. I use both. You can probably easily work out my personal preference but that's all I see it as.   

       I don't have a problem with people not liking my ideas. I do get frustrated when people don't understand them.   

       I thought that "One scrolls when you hold the mouse still, the other scrolls when you move the mouse" pretty much covered the difference between the two. Maybe someone else that understands can see where I am failing to explain this clearly.
st3f, May 25 2005
  

       Damn you st3f.   

       UB, he understands what you mean.   

       With what we'll call a 'wheel click' as you've described above, the page is set to a scroll 'mode' where the *rate* of scrolling changes depending on how near or far the cursor is from the scroll point, right?   

       The normal everyday scrollbar, such as the one to the right here, doesn't work on a scroll rate, but a scroll *ratio* - distance rather than speed, a distance that is linearly proportional to the distance scrolled on the page by the ratio of the size available to use as a scrollbar and the size of the actual page.   

       What st3f wants to do is essentially add another axis to this secondary mechanism that changes this rate. Let's see if I've got it right:   

       the scrollbar to the right here is vertical. if I hover my mouse over it and use the scroll wheel (to scroll not click) it moves the page up and down at a certain speed per scroll movement. what st3f is suggesting is that you should be able to move the mouse (in a horizontal direction? Or just far away from the current position indicator? Not sure about this bit) to a different position to effect a change of a different magnitude. This is a subtly different effect to changing the speed of a scroll, although it ends up with the same effect. For the record, I think I slightly prefer this one.   

       Of course, if you're changing the ratio of size represented on the scroll bar to page size, you need to change the height (or width) of the current position indicator too. But we'll leave that one to the graphic designers, hey?   

       (oh, and he worded the idea terribly, UB ;) )
yamahito, May 25 2005
  

       Thanks, yama. I'll add what I just wrote which will hopefully help, too.   

       Think of it in terms of gearing. Put the mouse on the meaty bit of a vertical scroll bar. Click and hold the left mouse button and drag it up and down. The page should scroll. Still keeping hold of the scroll bar, drag the mouse a couple of inches to the left then drag it up and down. The page should still scroll. What I'm proposing is that, when you do this, the page should still scroll, only slower, so that you can still use the scroll bar at the side to read one of Vernon's ideas.
st3f, May 25 2005
  

       "Why" only really comes into play if you use the scroll bars much. If you always use a wheel mouse to scroll you'll never need nor use this idea. [joins UB in corner.] Rat on a stick anyone?
st3f, May 25 2005
  

       moroccan rat's arse?
yamahito, May 25 2005
  

       The further the mouse is laterally from the engaged scroll bar, the less scrolling "power" it has. It is this simple, proportional relationship which makes me think that this would be an intuitive, useful and well-received addition to UI control and one that could be added without any change to the visual elements of the controls or a requirement for special hardware.   

       It'd be especially useful for pen-based computing.   

       It's elegant, inobvious, new, very plausible and eases a common problem without changing the widely-understood metaphor. These are all hallmarks of an excellent, and patentable, invention.
bristolz, May 25 2005
  

       Awww... shucks. You don't know people in a certain team within a particular development company that might be interested in running with this, do you?   

       Another appliction of this concept would be the fine or coarse adjustment of a slider. At the moment, the number of values a slide can take is limited by the number of pixels it takes up. Adding off-axis dragging would allow the slider to take a far wider range of values without increasing its size.
st3f, May 26 2005
  

       It's very rewarding to post an idea that few really seemed to get then, years later, see it implemented.   

       The variable rate scroll bar is now on the iPhone and iPod Touch (version 3.0 and above). If you play a piece of music and grab the bar that moves as the song plays (yes it probably has a name, possibly the scrub bar (see below)) you can see that it implements a variable rate scroll bar.   

       Drag your finger horizontally along the bar and the dot representing where you are in the track moves with your finger (1:1 gearing). Without lifting your finger off the screen, move it off axis and you have to move your finger further horizontally to get the same movement in the track, giving you finer grained control.   

       A bit of text even changes from "Hi-Speed Scrubbing" through "Half..." and "Quarter..." to "Fine Scrubbing." I kid you not. I guess it's an audio term. Wonderful.... and yes, I am fully aware that I am blowing my own trumpet. Deal with it.
st3f, Apr 07 2010
  
      
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