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How much time do you spend browsing the web on any given day? In 2014, Nielsen reported that Americans spend 11 hours online per day. That’s a LOT of web browsing! Now think about how much of that time is wasted due to inefficient browsing habits — time that you’ll never, ever get back.
That’s why universal browser tricks are so handy: they save time, allowing you to browse more web in less time. And once you’re browsing the web like a pro, you’ll wonder how you ever survived otherwise.
But there’s one nifty browser trick that a lot of users tend to overlook, which is a shame because it can be a game-changer. Here’s what you need to know and why you should start using browser gestures.
What Are Browser Gestures?
If you already know what a browser gesture is, consider yourself in the advanced class and feel free to skip down to the next section. If you’ve never heard of browser gestures before, here’s a quick crash course.
A browser gesture is a combination of mouse clicks and mouse movements (on desktops and laptops) or a combination of taps, presses, and holds (on mobile devices) that gets recognized as a single unit by most web browsers.
These gestures are associated with various browser actions, so every time you make a recognized mouse gesture or touchscreen gesture, the corresponding action occurs. In short, you can think of them as the mouse or touch equivalent to keyboard shortcuts.
One thing to note is that most browsers come with predetermined gestures that you can’t change (you can only enable or disable the entire gesture feature as a whole). However, there are gesture-related extensions that you can install that allow you to set up your own, and that’s the way to go if you think the basic ones are too limiting.
Why Browser Gestures Are Useful
By now you’re probably wondering, “Why use gestures when I can just use keyboard shortcuts?” That’s a good question, and ultimately it comes down to personal preference and which one “feels” better to you. But here are the most common reasons to prefer gestures.
1. Browser gestures are faster.
When you browse the web, you probably do so with your hand on your mouse 99% of the time. (The one exception is if you’re using an unconventional keyboard-based browser like Lynx or Qutebrowser.) And since your hand is already there, you don’t have to spend time “finding” the right hand placement as you would when searching for a keyboard shortcut — just click and draw the right motion.
2. Browser gestures are easier to remember.
Open up any web browser and check out its full list of keyboard shortcuts. How many are there? Hundreds! And even if you boil them down to the most useful and most essential, you still end up with dozens of keyboard shortcuts worth memorizing. I don’t know about you, but I only have enough brain power for a handful of them at most.
Browser gestures, on the other hand, are contextual and that makes them easier to remember. For example, click-and-drag-left to go back one page, or left-click-right-click to go forward one page. And if you incorporate an extension that lets you define your own gestures, you can even draw a W-shape to go to Wikipedia or make a zig-zag to close the current tab.
3. Browser gestures are unrestricted.
Again, if you use an extension that lets you define your own gestures, there are no limits to the kinds of shapes and movements you can draw. On the other hand, there are only so many keyboard buttons that you can use, and a lot of them are already used up by the hundreds of default shortcuts that come with most browsers.
Not to mention the fact that different browsers have different keyboard shortcuts for different actions, whereas you can easily set up the same gestures to run the same actions across all browsers (without having to override the default shortcuts).
3 Nifty Browser Extensions to Install
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again for emphasis: to really make use of browser gestures, you’ll want to install an extension that gives you more power and control. There are several to choose from out there, but these are the ones that I’ve found to be the best.
1. crxMouse (Chrome, Opera)
crxMouse is simply the best gesture-related extension currently available. Not only does it let you define custom movements, but it’s more flexible because it allows for gestures that involve the scrollwheel as well. I also like that you can customize the appearance of the gesture trail.
Note that Opera can use Chrome extensions too! To find out how, check out this article on how to make Chrome Extensions work in Opera.
2. FireGestures (Firefox) [No Longer Available]
FireGestures is pretty much the crxMouse equivalent for Firefox. It can handle a lot of the same stuff — including scrollwheel functionality — but also has something that crxMouse doesn’t have: keypress gestures. This lets you use Ctrl or Shift as the initiating key for a gesture (as opposed to a mouse click).
You can even write your own scripts that add extra actions and functions to which you can assign gestures, though this is an advanced browser feature that requires some scripting experience.
3. Mouse Gestures (Edge)
As soon as Edge got the ability to install extensions, it became a formidable competitor to Chrome and Firefox. The Windows Store doesn’t have too many extensions yet, at least as of this writing, but there are many Edge extensions worth using, including this one called Mouse Gestures.
Unfortunately, it only adds basic gesture functionality (which isn’t available in the core Edge browser) and you can’t define custom gestures, at least not yet. Maybe that will change in the months to come. Hopefully!
Once you’ve mastered the art of mouse gestures, you may want to go step further and start incorporating these unmissable browser tricks into your repetoire of web-browsing efficiencies. You don’t have to, but we recommend it.
What do you think? Are browser gestures useful or do you prefer old-fashioned keyboard shortcuts? If you do use gestures, which browser and extension do you like the best? Let us know in a comment below!