How to Bring Back the Mac’s Scroll Bars

This is how I do it.

How to Bring Back the Mac’s Scroll Bars

Executive Summary: Apple menu, System Preferences, General, Show Scroll Bars “Always.”

First thing I do when setting up a new Mac is bring back the scroll bars. I shouldn’t have to “bring back” the scroll bars, because they never should have gone away… but starting in Mac OS X 10.9, Apple turned them off! I think Apple was thinking “The iPhone doesn’t have scroll bars, and the iPad doesn’t have scroll bars… maybe the Mac shouldn’t have scroll bars either.” Apple got this one wrong. The Mac should have scroll bars.

See below for a representative picture showing the minimal “no scroll bars” look (this is the “Notes” app but the problem is present in nearly every Mac app):

Apple's Mac Notes app without scroll bars
(Click picture to see full-sized version.)
Can you tell whether there are more notes than the ten that are shown? No, you can’t. You’d have to first TRY scrolling down and if there was something down below, the scrolling would actually do something (that is, it would reveal more notes, below the ones you can see). But if there weren’t more notes to show, you would have wasted a scroll move– sort of like going to the trouble of putting your key in the lock to unlock a door and when you turn the key you realize the door was unlocked already. You feel silly, and you’ve wasted your time.

Yes, using Apple’s settings the scroll bars will appear as soon as you start scrolling (unless there’s nothing to scroll) but that’s not very helpful. The fact that you have to TRY to scroll in order to see whether you NEED to scroll will eventually result– at times– in wasted time and effort. That would be an irritation, and it’s all because you can’t tell whether you need to scroll or not without first moving the pointer.

Now look at the picture below, with the scroll bar showing.

Mac Notes app, scroll bars showing.
(Click picture to see full-sized version.)
You can see instantly that there must be more notes above the ones that are shown, and there also must be more notes below the ones that are shown. You can also tell how many notes are not shown, roughly, by nothing that the scroll bar is roughly one-third as long as the window is tall, which means you’re seeing about a third of what there is to see. (If you resized the window– made it larger– more notes would show, and the scroll bar would continue to get longer, until finally every note showed, and with no need for a scroll bar at that point, the scroll bar would simply disappear.) This is the way scroll bars used to work– that is, they didn’t require you to move the mouse or trackpad in order to see them– and it’s the way scroll bars ought to work now. Here’s how you make it so.

Bringing back the scroll bars is easy. All you do is go to the Apple menu, then System Preferences, then General. Set “Show scroll bars” to “Always.” There, better! See below.

General Preference pane on Mac showing how to set scroll bars to always on.
(Click picture to see full-sized version.)
You can always change things back but I’m betting you won’t. Try it my way and see for yourself. (It’s especially handy in Safari, as you’ll know whether you’re reading a short page or a long one, simply by looking at the vertical scroll bar.)

This one simple setting will save you a second or two many times a day. It will also save you the irritation of going to the trouble of positioning the cursor so you can scroll, only to find out there was no reason to do so. Add it up over a year and you’ll be a less irritated person, with a couple of extra hours to spend on something fun.

First in a series of short blog posts explaining how I use my Mac– shortcuts, techniques, settings, etc. Each post is self-contained but I suggest you read them all.
Also in this series:
How to Make “Recent Items” More Useful

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5 thoughts on “How to Bring Back the Mac’s Scroll Bars

  1. OMG THANK YOU!!!!! I am about to finally make the leap from Snow Leopard to the current OS having being forced into it, used SL for years because of the Word functionality (like scrollbars) being lost in OS updates – and was getting very uptight about losing the scrollbars (well, don’t get me started on the scrollbar arrows too) but at least this is a small comfort. Didn’t realise that choice was there. Simple but Huge thanks.

  2. I did find the way to set the scroll bars to always, but for some reason it keeps defaulting back to “automatically based on mousepad tracking”An tips on how to avoid this? Came across your page and thought you might be able to help. (OS10.11.6)

    1. That’s interesting. Usually, when a setting doesn’t stick, the trick is “set it to something you don’t want, close up the setting, then come back and change it to what you do want.” See if that works.

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