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After using a smartphone for a year or so, I find myself sometimes on the PC trying scroll a page by just clicking into the empty space and dragging around. Of course, in most programs, it either has no effect or starts some kind of selection.

Should Drag-Scrolling be implemented in document viewers, browsers etc. or would that cause confusion? A plus of this idea is that it would make it easier to use such programs on tablet PCs.

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5 Answers 5

One source of confusion could be that by dragging the scroll bar and dragging the page directly move the page in different directions. On touch devices you hardly ever use the scrollbar, so it doesn't matter on them. I'm not saying this is a major issue and that users wouldn't get used to it.

Another point against adapting universal dragging to desktop environments is the selection of text/elements, like already pointed out. On touch devices, selecting text needs some extra effort and affordances like drag handles appearing on long touches. I'd hate having to resort to such on desktop, too.

I really like the way Apple's MagicMouse kind of combines the actions of scrolling the document with a finger/mouse wheel and selections and other 'pointer operations'. MagicMouse lets the user to scroll the document by using fingers gestures on top of the mouse and move the pointer and make selections by moving the mouse itself.

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Logitech mice implement this by pressing the mousewheel and moving the mouse around.

Even if I personally never needed that feature, at least it solves the problem of distinguishing between user interaction with the page (given webapps may already implement left-click + drag for other purposes) and the user just wanting to drag the page.

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My mouse does that too, but in a anti-intuitive manner (probably the same like Logitech's): When I move the mouse up (while pressing the wheel), the scrollbar goes up, so the document scrolls down. It doesn't feel like dragging the document. –  ammoQ Feb 17 '11 at 7:37

In a way, "drag-scrolling" has been implemented on some desktop computers. On MacBooks and Apple's Magic Trackpad, you can use two-finger scrolling. It's such a useful feature that I don't understand why it is not turned on by default. After I turned it on, I have never even once gone back to using the scroll bar. Some Windows laptops have been implementing similar gestures as well.

With mice, in my opinion I don't think that drag-scrolling is practical or even needed. Most of them have a scroll wheel, as @Henrik pointed out, and users are generally used to them.

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It is on by default in MacBooks - in fact, it's in the hardware, so I don't even know how you'd turn it off. It is basically simulating the scroll wheel action via hardware drivers - it even works when using Windows on a MacBook, so it can't just be a software setting. –  Charles Boyung Feb 16 '11 at 19:13
    
@Charles I don't have a recent MacBook nearby but at least before there was an option in the System Preferences whether or not to use Two finger scrolling. For Windowses on Mac there probably is a device driver from Apple that enables the same gestures than on OS X. –  Jawa Feb 20 '11 at 18:35
    
it's a driver thing, not a hardware thing. if i remember correctly bootcamp installs the windows mouse drivers for you ... –  kritzikratzi May 5 '12 at 9:08

One big difference is that the mouse pointer can do more accurate selections, so it can interact with the scrollable area in more ways than your fingers. Hence, if you add a scroll function where ever you press on the area it will interfere with the other actions (select text, click etc). It isn't a better way to scroll by dragging the entire area (for example, your mouse has a scroll wheel instead). Rather, it's a must for smart phones since you can't hit the relatively small scroll bar with your fingers.

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From my experience the type of drag scrolling works best with touch screens rather than via the mouse (though they are by no means impossible to use with a mouse) - which is why you are seeing them primarily on smart phones.

As touch screen tablet devices become more widespread I suspect that you'll see this type of interaction become more widespread as people become used to it and (like you) expect it of all their applications.

However, you have pointed out one flaw - you need to be able to distinguish between a "drag scroll" and a "drag selection" so there may be limits to how and where this will be implemented.

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