Sawfish is a GNOME compliant Window Manager for X11 (aka X, X Windows). It used to be called Sawmill but had to change its name due to a conflict with a commerical log analyser produced by Flowerfire (there's also an IBM operating system project with the same name).

Sawfish's philosophy is simplicity, extensibility and flexibility. Somehow, it achieves this by using the Lisp programming language as a framework (this is quite neat, but if you don't grok Lisp, theme-authoring is virtually impossible). All its functions and features can be modified by means of a custom .sawfishrc Lisp script, and all the high level window manager functions are implemented in Lisp to allow for future development.

Sawfish is very mature and comes with a couple of very good config utilities - there's the GNOME Control Centre Applet and a standalone application called sawfish-ui. They let you tweak just about everything you can think of, and work very well.

Sawfish was adopted as the default window manager for GNOME in late 2000, replacing Enlightenment, and it's part of the Ximian GNOME distribution (although now the "default" window manager for GNOME is Metacity, a window manager that draws a lot from Sawfish, but is much more closely tied to GNOME).

Sawfish can be themed like most X11 window managers, there's even a plugin for the GIMP called GimpMill that can be used to create themes directly from graphics, which is cool. But you still need to know Lisp, which ain't. However if you're lazy like me, you can download hundreds of Sawfish themes (by people like tigert) from

Sawfish's homepage is at

A shark with a sword!

The sawfish is a very large fish, related to sharks and rays. Sharks and rays stem from a common evolutionary ancestry -- approximately 400 million years ago, there was an evolutionary split between bony and cartilaginous fishes, sharks and rays being examples of the latter. Sharks developed into the well-known nomadic predatory powerhouse we all know, whereas rays adapted a more specialized form well-suited for feeding on the rich food sources on the ocean floor. The first sawfishes came into being approximately 56 million years ago, and descend from an unidentified species of guitarfish (the guitarfish is sort of an intermediate form between shark and ray).

Sawfishes dwell near the ocean bottom, where they lie in wait for smaller fishes (like mullet). If a group of small fish comes nearby, a hungry sawfish launches itself at its prey and attacks it using the saw-like snout it is named after. The sawfish will slash prey with the sharp saw, and then return to the bottom to catch the injured or stunned fishes that sank down there after its assault. The saw also serves as a defensive weapon, which the sawfish will use to fend off attacking sharks (or fishermen).

The saw also serves two other purposes: The sawfish uses it like a rake to unearth buried prey (like crabs), and more importantly, it houses a sophisticated sensory system which functions as a motion detector. Remarkably sensitive, the saw allows the sawfish to detect distant motion of incoming prey and predators, and even locate buried prey by sensing their heartbeat. While the sawfish also has decent eyesight, its prime sense is the motion detector -- vision is not that useful when you live in the darkness at the bottom of the ocean. A final note about the saw snout: The apparent "teeth" sticking out of the sides of the saw are not teeth at all, but dermal denticles -- specially adapted, sharp scales.

The sawfish is a very large ray, reaching lengths exceeding 20 feet. Unlike most fishes, female sawfishes are remarkable in that they bear live young. You can imagine that'd be quite painful with the saw and all, but in fact the newborn sawfish has a rubbery sheath around its saw -- and the saw itself is soft at birth, hardening shortly afterwards.

Unless you are a smaller fish, crustacean or someone attacking the sawfish, an encounter with a sawfish is not likely to be painful. They tend to be gentle, sluggish and docile animals, and prefer to lie quietly at the bottom the water and not be disturbed. Since their teeth are dome-shaped, they cannot tear prey apart, thus also restricting them to feed on creatures a lot smaller than themselves. Remarkably for a 20-foot predatory fish related to sharks, there is not even one recorded incident of a sawfish killing or seriously harming a human. If you were travelling around tropical areas and looking for sawfishes, you could find them in a number of different places: The sawfish have the unique ability to survive in both freshwater and saltwater environments, and they can travel from the sea into rivers and lakes at will.

Unfortunately, you'd probably have to look for a long time. The sawfish is a seriously endangered species, primarily because they easily get entangled and caught in fishing nets set for other species, and decades of accidental capture has severely depleted their numbers. Also, they are quite sensitive to pollution or deliberate modification to the shallows they inhabit.

Wow, you learn a lot of obscure stuff by reading into your former favourite free software window manager, don't you?

Saw"fish` (?), n. Zool.

Any one of several species of elasmobranch fishes of the genus Pristis. They have a sharklike form, but are more nearly allied to the rays. The flattened and much elongated snout has a row of stout toothlike structures inserted along each edge, forming a sawlike organ with which it mutilates or kills its prey.


© Webster 1913.

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