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 Keyboard MacBook Keyboard Action
Page Up fn-Up Arrow Move screen up
Page Down fn-Down Arrow Move screen down
Option-Page Up fn-Option-Up Arrow Move cursor/screen up
Option-Page Down fn-Option-Down Arrow Move 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.

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