Lion: Reversing Trackpad Scrolling

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Like Snow Leopard, Apple’s OS X Lion includes a two-finger trackpad gesture for scrolling through windows and documents. The scrolling action in Lion, however, is exactly backwards compared to Snow Leopard, which has turned out to be a major annoyance to at least some new Lion users. If that’s you, switching back to Snow Leopard’s scrolling style is easy to do.

Apple changed how the two-finger scroll gesture acts in Lion so it matches single finger scrolling on the iPad and iPhone. That means when you swipe down, the contents of the selected window pulls down, too. The scroll gesture in Snow Leopard focuses on the window scroll bar, so swiping down moves the bar down, making appear as if the window contents is moving up.

If you’d rather go back to Snow Leopard’s scroll gesture, do this:

  • Choose Apple menu > System Preferences
  • Select the Trackpad Preference Pane, then click the Scroll & Zoom tab
  • Uncheck Scroll direction: Natural

Now your scroll swipe gestures in Lion will follow the window scroll bar instead of the window contents.

Lion Scrolling PreferencesLion lets you switch back to Snow Leopard’s scroll gesture

I found that it took about half a day for me to get used to Lion’s scroll gesture, and now scrolling with the trackpad on my Mac running Snow Leopard feels backwards. Luckily for Mac users that aren’t warming up to Lion’s new ways, Apple didn’t decide this is a feature that shouldn’t have a user changeable preference.

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I like the idea of the new scrolling orientation, but with three Macs in my house that I use daily (and a fourth used occasionally) - only one of which I am able to install Lion on - it would lead to much more than half a day’s learning. When I am actually touching the screen of an iOS device it’s much more intuitive to switch behaviors.


This change makes so much sense, especially if you are using a multi-touch trackpad (multi-touch is the new focus of interacting with OS X).

“Scrolling” is really “dragging”. A page is an object just as text and graphics are objects on a page. If you drag a graphic on a page, you logically expect that object to move in the same direction that you are dragging… not the opposite direction. The same applies to the page itself. If you drag the body of a page, it should move in the same direction, not opposite (as it used to do).

Scroll bars have been “demoted” in Lion. They are invisible unless you either drag a page or move the cursor over a window edge. The scroll bars are no longer the “object”.

Although this is a change from previous versions of Mac OS X, it is a change for the better, and it makes perfect sense.

If you are using a previous version   of Mac OS X, and are thinking of moving to Lion, you should download a free application called “Scroll Reverser”. It will help untrain you from dragging pages the old way (in the opposite direction), and train you on the new, logical way so that you are ready to roll when you upgrade to Lion.


When I first installed the dev build of Lion, the ‘natural’ scrolling direction seemed strange, indeed. (I use a Trackball with a scroll wheel of sorts). However, it only took a couple days before doing it the old way - when booted back into my main Snow Leopard partition - seemed weird and backwards. With the Magic Trackpad that I’ve borrowed from a friend, doing the old way seems even more unnatural and awkward.


Regarding scroll bars: They have been pointless since the time that virtually all mice/trackballs/etc. have had scroll wheels. So often, I see people moving their mouse pointer over to the scrollbar and then click-dragging it up and down, when they have a perfectly useable scroll wheel on their mouse. It makes me want to grab the mouse out of their hand and say ‘No! Do it THIS way!

As ViewRoyal (and may others) have pointed out, scrolling really is dragging the page-type-object you are looking at up and down, and moving moving your hand/fingers in the same direction that the page moves, just makes sense.


I’m looking forward to trying the new way of scrolling (buying a Magic Trackpad on my way home tonight). But I did find myself switching the scroll wheel controls on my mouse back to the other way, simply because I have other computers, and while I don’t mind learning a new way, I don’t want to have to learn/unlearn several times a day.

Is there any way to get the new style scrolling on older systems?


I’m betting that sales of Magic Trackpads are going to spike over the next couple weeks. A lot of new Lion users are going to want the full multi-touch experience, which requires a suitable trackpad. I borrowed one from a friend, and it just fills a hole that Lion seems to have without one.


Just think about it like you are scrolling on your iDevice.  At first I thought it was backwards and but then remembered that is how I scroll on my touch.  There is a disconnect since the display is not right under your fingertip, but you get used to it.

This is unrelated, but I had to turn the restore feature off on the system prefs.  Do not like the restore feature on web browsers.  Sucks that you lose it system wide.  Hope they make a pref in safari to isolate it so I can have my cake and eat it.


I think I’ve answered my own question:

If I install that on my Snow Leopard machines, then I can acclimate to Lion’s method much easier (Windows may be tougher, though…)

Oh, and yes, now that I have a trackpad on Lion, I’m loving it!


Just a helpful note to anyone who had the same problem switching the scrolling back to normal. I use a MS mouse and the mouse control panel didn’t offer the options to switch the scrolling direction. I had to borrow an old apple mouse which once plugged in changed the preferences to allow me to switch it back. I could then switch the mouse back to my regular mouse.


It looks like Apple is preparing us for the future multitouch screen macs, and I can’t wait!


I’m just glad that I figured out how to be able to use my 3 finger left/right to go back/forward in Safari.

I couldn’t live with having to go and click a button to go back/forward!


I think this is a terrible change. At least they put the option in to put things back. If you’re editing a text document, which arrow key do you press to scroll down? The down arrow key. If you are selecting text, which direction do you drag to scroll down and select more on the following page? Down. Before everything was consistent. Now you have a mixed metaphor, where to scroll down you drag down or press down, and you wheel or gesture upwards. Apple, this is a mouse driven interface, you’re just making things more confusing.


@graxspoo - The new interface is no more confusing than what one might do with a pad of paper, a pencil and a highlighter. (For western languages), when one writes, they do so starting at the top, and working their way down the page until they get to the bottom. In the case of highlighting some text on the page - typically, one would likely start at the upper-left word, and stoke to the right, with the highlighter. When one has written or read to the bottom of a page, the page is pushed upward, not downward, to get to another page. So, in actuality, scrolling the ‘Lion way’, really is more natural, in that it more closely mimics a real-world, physical example.

It seems that you are mixing motions use to move around a page, with those used to select something on the page. One is handled via moving the mouse and the other with the scroll wheel. Alternatively, pre-Lion, moving the page can be done by clicking on and dragging a scrollbar - which is analogous to nothing in a real-world, physical example.

Just my 2?, but I hope this shows how, other than the strain of overcoming old mousing habits, there is nothing wrong with Lion’s ‘Natural’ scrolling. And, of course, those who don’t want to use it, can turn it off and need not complain about it any longer.

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