Switching challenges: the Page Up / Page Down key

It has been nearly a year since I switched from Windows to Mac. In the past I've written that among the more difficult things I encountered in the switch was the behavior of the keyboard:
Little adjustments - from Windows to Mac
Mac: Have you tried using the Option key?
Mac: Where did my Backspace key go?
Windows to Mac keystroke mapping - a quick guide
In spite of all this attention there was one key stroke combination group that I missed and it didn't get to me until very recently: the behavior of the Page Up and Page Down keys. On the Windows and Ubuntu based systems I have handy the Page Up and Page Down key perform the following action: Page Down/Page Up in a non-editing viewport (web browser, help system, etc) and the viewing window scrolls Down or Up by a screen. If however you are in an editable surface (like a text editor) and hit Page Down/Page Up it moves the screen and the cursor.

This is different than the behavior on a Mac. The Mac Page Down / Page Up keys (fn-Down Arrow / fn-Up Arrow on a MacBook) only move the screen view, not the cursor. The way to move the cursor and the screen view on a Mac one screen at a time is to use Option-Page Down / Option-Page Up. Even when doing this the behavior is different: Windows and Ubuntu keep the cursor position in the same place relative to the window as you scroll down; Mac places the cursor in the middle of the screen.

To summarize:

Full KeyboardMacBook KeyboardAction
Page Upfn-Up ArrowMove screen up
Page Downfn-Down ArrowMove screen down
Option-Page Upfn-Option-Up ArrowMove cursor/screen up
Option-Page Downfn-Option-Down ArrowMove cursor/screen down

When I'm in Safari I hit Page Up / Down in order to scroll the viewport, then can switch to the arrow keys for fine tuning the view. Page Up / Page Down are effectively a jump tool for the cursor position.

Many times lately I've found myself paging up and down in a large code file in TextMate, then I'll automatically hit the Down Arrow to just move down a little and since that action moves the view back to the cursor I'm usually back at the top of my document.

Frankly I think Apple got this one wrong; it should be the other way around with the Option modifier being used to only scroll the screen. It is of course too late now to change it and I am working to commit this keystroke combination to muscle memory, however if anyone knows the rationale behind this design choice I'd love to hear it.


Bluejade said...

Why don't you change the shortcuts into the ones you prefer in the keyboard preference pane?

David Alison said...

@Bluejade: Normally I don't care for remapping keys; I'd prefer to use the system defaults whenever possible, hence my query on why Apple thought this was a good idea.

That said, how would I go about remapping the Page Up to work like Option-Page Up in the keyboard shortcuts?

Paul Russo said...

There is a reason for the behavior that you dislike: range selection.

Range Selection - a primer in case some readers are not familiar with this.

Range selection allows you to select a block of data by selecting the first end of the block then shift clicking on the other end of data. Everything in between the start and the end is selected.

For example, in a word processor, a sentence can be selected by clicking on the beginning of the sentence then shift clicking on the end of the sentence. This can be a bit easier than clicking and dragging to select the sentence.

Range selection is generic, as are most things on a Mac. Range selection extends to larger blocks of data. For example, in a word processor, click on the beginning of a chapter, then scroll down and click on the end of the chapter to select the entire chapter. This can be a lot easier and more efficient than clicking and dragging to select a large block of data like a chapter.

The Windows scrolling that you are familiar with, breaks range selection because it moves the cursor when it scrolls. The only way for range selection to extend generically to large blocks of data, is for scrolling to change the view, but not change the position of the cursor.

Because range selection is broken on Windows, selecting a block of data requires a click and drag down the window. For large blocks of data, it forces the user to click at the beginning of the data, then drag down to select the whole block of data. The Windows scrolling behavior causes the selection of large blocks of data to be both tiring and time consuming.

The behavior that you dislike is an example of how Microsoft copied obvious Mac functionality, but missed the subtlety of function that makes a Mac consistent and understandable.

These little subtle details are what makes a Mac a Mac, what differentiates a Mac from Windows. These details are the soul of a Mac.

Paul Russo said...

Maybe a bit off topic:

Microsoft's breaking of range selection for large blocks of data, is an example of how Microsoft copied the Mac but didn't understand the subtlety of a Mac, the thing that makes a Mac consistent, easier to use, and understandable.

I contend that Microsoft did not understand these things because Microsoft never cared at all.

This may be the reason why Mac zealots hated Windows so much, even if most of those zealots could not specifically verbalize why they felt such hatred.

Bluejade said...

@David: Sorry, my bad for suggesting it. I have just found out you can even map any of the Page Up/Page Down keys as shortcuts. Though I am using Tiger I don't thing it is different in Leopard : (

Gryzor said...

I have had the same problem (and I've switched like 4 years ago)

I could never get used to the Mac shortcuts for page up/down. Maybe because I never left Windows entirely, since I must keep using Visual Studio at work.

iraxef said...

In Windows, the Home and End keys move my cursor to the beginning or end of _that line of text_. In Mac, I cannot seem to replicate this functionality. Any tips? Thanks!

Ast A. Moore said...

In Safari (and other non-editable documents, i.e. Preview) hit the Space bar to scroll down a page. Hit Shift–Space bar to go up a page.

Command–Down/Up Arrow scrolls you to the end/beginning of a document.

Gabor said...

@irafex, for the line end/beginning try the Apple+Right/Left Arrow keys. The Up/Down keys in the same combinations scrolls you up/down by one paragraph.
I also figured out that the Windows CTRL+Arrow key combination (one word left or right) has also a Mac version using the Option with the Left/Right arrow keys.
I've been using Mac for six months and still miss some of the useful shortcuts available in WIndows. My biggest challenge is the SHIFT+Trash, which lets you throw away files right away instead of putting it in the trash then deleting it.

Gabor said...

Huhh, I need to correct myself:
Apple+Up/Down - beginning/end of the document
Option+Up/Down - one paragraph up/down

Jeff said...

@ iraxef: You can press Cmd + Right Arrow to go to the end of the line, and Cmd + Left Arrow to go to the beginning of a line. Also, if you want to move the cursor one whole word at a time, press Option + Left/Right arrows.

David Alison said...

@Paul Russo: Range selection works fine in Windows; if I move to the beginning of a block of text (say the start of a document), then hold down the shift key to begin selecting text (just like Mac), then my selection extends down with my screen changes. I do not have to grab the mouse in order to do that. It is no different than the behavior I get on my Mac.

This is purely an issue of what action actually moves the cursor position. To use the example you cited, open Text Edit with a large block of text that extends several screens down on your Mac. Move the cursor to the very top of the document, hold down the shift key to begin selecting data and then Page Down a time or two. The cursor (though not visible) has moved to the end of that selection. If you release the Shift key and start navigating around in your document at that point the cursor is placed at the end of the selection.

This is actually a bit of a conflict in my opinion. Page Up / Page Down does not move the cursor UNLESS it's being used for selection. I think that Page Up / Page Down should move the cursor without having to use the Option key to make that work. The way Mac handle data selection actually reinforces my view.

I understand the MS hatred thing but there are going to be times that MS gets things right and Apple does not. This, though ridiculously trivial, is one of them.

paul Russo said...

If you want to move the cursor one whole word at a time while *selecting* each word:

Double click on the first word to select the whole word, and press Option + Shift + Left/Right arrows. It's adding the shift key that triggers the selection behavior.

Believe it or not.

If you want to move the cursor one *character* at a time while *selecting* each character:

Click on the first character to put the flashing insertion point in the middle of a word, and press Shift + Left/Right arrows. It's removing the option key that stops the whole word selection behavior.

Paul Russo said...

@David - That's something that I never figured out on Windows. Thanks for the correction.

David Alison said...

@iraxef: I did a blog post a while back that may help you:

Windows to Mac Keystroke Mapping Quick Guide

Another excellent resource for general Mac OSX key mappings is:

Default Mac OS X System Key Bindings

bregalad said...

I'm a 17 year Mac veteran. In my mind the purpose of a modifier key is to modify a single action (key press, click). Holding down a modifier while performing a drag-like action is completely foreign to me.

On a Mac I do range selection this way:
1. Place the cursor at the beginning of the desired block
2. Scroll down to find my desired end spot.
3. Press [shift] and click the desired end spot.

I haven't done a range selection on Windows recently.

tai said...


My thoughts exactly, I never would have realized you could do range selection like that on windows without having read this. Now I know!

mbmcavoy said...

While I love my MacBook, I haven't done much heavy-duty editing on it yet, and hadn't yet found this as an issue.

At work, I am stuck with an ancient Dell and WinXP. (My loathing increases almost daily)

I found it interesting that just before reading this blog, I was in the midst of editing a massive, repetitive document, and when making large selections, it was crucial that I had it selected correctly. I was finding myself frustrated with the behavior of Page Up/Down, but not thinking it could be different.

After reading this post, I was wishing yet again that my employer would allow Macs...

Betsy said...

I was googling this topic (two keys for page down in OS X) and came across this discussion. Be prepared for bluntness.

I was also hoping to find a fix that would allow one-handed page downs (no jokes, please ;)) Having to use two fingers when reading multi page documents on the Mac is a pain the behind - OK?

I work with a PC at work and switch to Powerbk at home. I am not an expert on things computer by any means. I just know that for me efficiency = fewest key strokes and least amount of moving my hand from keyboard to mouse and back.

It's constantly frustrating to not have a forward delete key, to have keys that *say* "page^" and "pageV" that aren't, to need three! keys to select words in text, and so forth. And I shouldn't have to have third party software to make a key do what it says on it.

Daily I work with some of the poorest written software for PCs, requiring mindless numbers of stupid keystrokes. But the inefficient key commands of the Mac I describe are built in to the hardware.

I do love my G4 and all of its *many* virtues. But there are reasonable people asking the "why?" of these things.

Forgive me for being blasphemous. It strikes me as more of a stubborn need to not give in than any adherence to some "Mac Philosophy of Simplicity". Maybe Jobs has money invested in Carpal Tunnel treatment?

Perhaps it's time for Apple to admit that (like the two button mouse) some PC shortcuts are simply more efficient for editing and navigation?

Liz (awaiting the flames)

David Alison said...

@Liz: The issue you bring up is a little different than the one I pointed out in my blog post. Yours is more an issue of hardware design considerations for a small form factor device (Powerbooks, Macbooks, etc).

I've had a large number of Windows laptops over the years from Dell, HP, Sony and Toshiba. During that time I never got comfortable with the layout of the keyboards and never was able to comfortably touch type on them beyond basic letter input. Why? Because each manufacturer used different techniques to squeeze the US 101 key standard keyboard in.

Some provided full size keys in odd locations while others made tiny little keys that nearly required a pencil tip to press without hitting surrounding keys. Others went the Apple route and depended more on the "fn" key to use.

While I've never been shy about criticizing Apple when I think they made a poor design decision (which is exactly what the original post above is), I also recognize good ideas when I see them.

It took a little adjustment but now that I'm running Macs nearly exclusively I've become very confident with my MacBook's keyboards. It sounds to me like the problems you are having center around using a compact form of the keyboard more than anything else.

Have you tried just attaching a full size USB keyboard to your Powerbook? If you have to spend time in both Mac and PC worlds then having a similar keyboard layout may help.

Betsy said...

Actually, my G4 keyboard is the same size as the Dell one I use at work, possibly even a bit larger.

Yes, the physical aspects of the two keyboards are quite different. I've basically gotten used to the flatness and different key touch.

It's very possible that I will also adapt to the key differences I complained about, once I'm using the Mac exclusively. I'm already getting used to those three keys to select words.

Actually, I hadn't considered buying a separate keyboard for my laptop that would be like a PC's. That's an idea if I continue to have problems. I'm retiring after many years of PCs and will now be exclusively writing on the Mac.

Thanks for the suggestion, David. I appreciate your kind response.

David Alison said...

@Liz: If you'll be spending a lot of time on the keyboard you really should take a look at some of the ergonomic keyboards that are out there. I personally use a Microsoft Natural 4000 keyboard for my primary Mac (more information here).

The split keyboard models really can save your wrists and cut down on repetitive stress injuries. Good luck!

Betsy said...

You are right. It never occurred to me to consider an add on keyboard. Which is rather obtuse on my part since I have had several third party mice.

There are a lot of problems this might solve for me in the way of comfort.

Again, thanks for the suggestion. I'll do some browsing of models tomorrow for sure.

Victor said...

What I really miss and what really slows me down (and makes me crazy besides some other things) on Mac is the Windows Home key behavior: if the current line starts with indentation and you press it the cursor moves to the first non-blank character of the line, the second time you press it the cursor moves to the beginning of the line. I searched all over the internet and couldn't find the solution. It is beyond my understanding how such a useful text editing feature is missing on such "user-friendly" computer. All the Mac users I asked don't even know that something like this exists in this world. Does anyone know if there's a workaround or fix for this?

Betsy said...

Victor. Don't know if this is fix works or if you can use it, but I found this:

Anonymous said...


Bob Cancilla said...

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Your comments on PageUp and PageDown have saved my tail after 7 years of using Mac's and searching for them!

Anonymous said...

Nice one, this drove me nuts for years. But i don't think the Mac has a way to move the cursor and the page in the Finder. I constantly need to scroll thru long lists of files. The Option doesn't work in the Finder. Or iTunes.

David Alison said...

I don't have a full Mac keyboard handy here but on my MacBook Pro if I hold down the fn-down arrow combo it does move down a page at a time in the Finder.