I suppose I really became aware of using gestures to navigate through software applications by watching product videos for Apple products such as the iPhone. Multi-touch is one type of gesturing, and can be very efficient on finger-operated devices. Swipe to the right with two fingers to advance to the next picture. Swipe to the left with two fingers to return to the previous picture. Make a U shape to do this, make a Z shape to do that. There are lots of shape options, and even more when you use two fingers instead of two, or three fingers instead of two.
This is particularly easy with a mouse, but just as easy on a laptop, by moving one’s fingers across the trackpad. Gestures aren’t necessarily built into any operating system designed for the desktop, but things are moving in that direction. At the moment, the place most people use gestures in in a web browser. So many actions can have gestures assigned to them with the right piece of software: create a new tab, close a tab, move to the next tab, move to the previous tab, reload a tab, view a page’s source code, and more. For Google Chrome users, a handy extension for using gestures is called Smooth Gestures. But Smooth Gestures doesn’t just come with a bunch of gestures ready to be used (although it has that); it also gives you the option to set up gestures for even more activities, using a gesture “shape” of your own choosing.
One thing about gestures: until you use them, day in and day out, they can be a bit of a pain to remember. The shapes don’t necessarily mean anything, so the fact that you make an “O” shape in order to get to the Smooth Gestures configuration page isn’t going to be intuitive, at least not until you’ve done it a few times so that it’s second nature.
By default, Smooth Gestures comes with 21 gestures ready to be used. Those 21 gestures cover the following:
Go back or forward through your viewing history.
Reload the tab and reload the tab completely (without using your browser cache).
Stop a page from reloading.
Create a new tab.
Open a link in a new tab, or open a link in a background tab.
Close a tab or undo a closed tab.
Duplicate the current tab.
Go to the previous tab or the next tab.
Split or merge tabs.
Scroll to the top or the bottom of the current page.
View a page’s source code.
List the current page’s cookies.
Open the Smooth Gestures status page or the options page.
In addition, there are roughly 30 other tasks, just waiting for you to assign a gesture to them. I won’t go over every one of them, but some available actions are opening history, opening downloads, opening extensions, zoom in or out, print a page, and more. Setting the gesture for an action is simple. Click the little plus sign (“+”) beside an unused task and a large white pop-up will appear. You have four different types of gestures available: a standard mouse gesture (click the right mouse button and make a shape), a scroll gestures (hold down the right mouse button and scroll the wheel), a rocker gesture (hold down the right mouse button, scroll and then hit the left mouse button), or a simple keyboard shortcut. Obviously, some of these gestures – the ones requiring multiple button clicks as well as a mouse gesture – can be kind of tricky, and using them won’t be second nature. It will take a while, and probably quite a few trips back and forth between your web page and the Smooth Gestures options page, before you really start to get the hang of things.
But I think the learning curve is worth it. There’s a lot that can happen based on nothing more than how you wiggle your mouse, and that’s kind of impressive. Gestures are – or can be – a nice time and energy saver, and should be an efficient navigational tool for your web browser. I’ll be the first to admit that using gestures isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but just learn a couple, drill them into your head so they become second nature, then add a few more. Soon you’ll be using Smooth Gestures to gesture like a pro. Smooth Gestures works on Windows, Mac and Linux, but on Mac and Linux, you’ll likely need to right click twice in order to get the contextual menu, as Smooth Gestures captures the first right-click, assuming it’s the beginning of a gesture.