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Mac browser showdown: Multi-Touch gestures in Safari vs. Firefox

Mac browser showdown: Multi-Touch gestures in Safari vs. Firefox

Those big, spacious trackpads on Apple’s recent line of notebooks were built for fancy finger maneuvers. It just so happens that the two main Mac internet browsers – Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox – were built the same way.

Although a lot of people are keyboard freaks who like to touch the mouse or trackpad as little as possible, it might be time to consider going the opposite way. The functionality offered by Apple’s multi-touch MacBook trackpads is quite impressive and continues to get better with each software update. The only time I’ve been reaching for the keyboard lately is just to type letters & words, then it’s right back to the trackpad. Application switching and user interface navigation are so much smoother with the flick of a finger. Internet browsing is a great example of an area where these trackpads are being utilized.

Considering they make both the hardware and software for Macs, it’s logical that Apple would inject Safari with some multi-touch. What’s really surprising, though, is that Mozilla Firefox has taken it a step further and done even more with this technology. Firefox wins the battle of the browsers in this particular area merely because it supports more gestures at this point. But to start off, let’s go over the gestures that are currently available in both Safari 4 and Firefox 3.5.

3-Finger Swipe Left: Go back one page in the current tab’s history. It’s the same as pressing the Back button in the toolbar.
3-Finger Swipe Right: Go forward one page in the current tab’s history. Again, it’s the equivalent of pressing the Forward button.
2-Finger Pinch Together: Zoom in one level.
2-Finger Pinch Apart: Zoom out one level.

Pretty cool, right? You can even hold down the Command key while doing one of those 3-finger swipes to open the previous/next page in a new tab. Now let’s take a look at what only Firefox can do.

3-Finger Swipe Up: Instantly scroll to the top of the page.
3-Finger Swipe Down: Instantly scroll to the bottom of the page.
2-Finger Twist Left: Move to the tab to the left.
2-Finger Twist Right: Move to the tab to the right.

These are smart, time-saving gestures Apple needs to “borrow” for Safari immediately. However, there is one hitch… the twisting gestures are not enabled in Firefox by default. We need to turn those on ourselves, and here’s how:

  1. Type “about:config” (no quotes) in Firefox’s address bar and accept the intimidating warning message that comes up.
  2. Type “twist” in the search field or scroll down the long list until you find items that start with “browser.gesture.twist”.
  3. Double-click the “browser.gesture.twist.left” entry and type “Browser:PrevTab”. Press OK.
  4. Double-click the “browser.gesture.twist.right” entry and type “Browser:NextTab”. Press OK.
  5. Double-click the “browser.gesture.twist.threshold” entry and type “40”. This adjusts the level of sensitivity and can be changed to your preference, but I found 40 to be an acceptable value. A lower number would be more erratic and a higher number would be more sluggish. Press OK.

There you have it – basic multi-touch gestures on modern MacBooks, MacBook Pros, and MacBook Airs that enhance your internet browsing productivity in both Safari and Firefox.

One Comment Has Been Posted (Leave Your Response)

Nice! I used 50 for sensitivity, works better for me.