April 25, 2019

From the Desktop: S Is For Sawfish and Shedding - page 2

Ham and Swiss, Hold the Mayo

  • January 9, 2001
  • By Brian Proffitt

In recent times, another happy reminder of my childhood has popped up, now that Sawmill has changed its name to Sawfish and has become the favored WM of the GNOME environment. Now it's Sawfish everywhere you look these days.

But I think I would be happy with Sawfish even without the coincidental ties I have to the term.

As a window manager, Sawfish is very configurable. Okay, that's not really unique among WMs, but it certainly has one of the nicest control panel interfaces of the window managers.

The level of control within the Sawfish Configurator is truly incredible. You can detail nearly every aspect about the look of your desktop--everything from theme selection to what the handle on the bottom right corner of your windows looks like.

Starting at the macro level, Sawfish has a fair number of its own themes that are independent of any themes used by any desktop environment you've got running. These themes handle what you might expect: the construction of the windows themselves, no more, no less. But there is a lot of creative ways you can manipulate these few parameters to really give your desktop some stunning looks. Couple this with an environment's themes, and you can really make a unique statement.

There is more to Sawfish than how your windows look, though that certainly is handled well. Sawfish also lends a lot of control ability to how your windows behave.

Maximizing and minimizing behaviors, shading, and focusing are some of the characteristics you can manipulate regardless of the theme. Users who want their windows to behave just so can have a field day with the settings in the Sawfish Configurator.

What is especially nice is that fact you don't have to be a scripting guru to handle all of these modifications. There's a .sawfishrc file, of course, but I think only the truly obsessed would need it. The control panel spells things out in clear detail, and new users should have no trouble dealing with the settings.

From a Dagwood to a Finger Sandwich and Back

Sawfish's power and flexibility make it a strong candidate to use for those times when we get that bloated feeling users have when they use desktop environments but are unwilling to go full-bore down to the command-line. I call this phenomenon the Great Molting.

There are two to three stages to this cyclical molting of the graphical interface, depending on the type of person.

First, there's the desire to get fast and get back to basics. It is usually satisfied by ditching the desktop environment and using something more minimalist such as a WM like Sawfish. This effect usually lasts a couple of weeks or so and then the user either jumps to the last stage or takes a more drastic route by way of the optional middle stage.

This middle stage is the complete disownership of all GUIs. In effect, the user has gone from the nude beach to swimming nude in a river in Russia in January (which I have some insane people do)--the water's much more painful, but the effect is infinitely exhilarating.

When the user survives this foray into the world of the command line, eventually they will get the itch to come back into the GUI fold. And they will typically come back with a vengeance, with a full-fledged desktop environment crammed with as many gadgets and gizmos as they can find.

This, then, is the third stage of the Great Molting: the return to status quo.

Sawfish is a very good candidate for the first stage of the Molt, because of its many configuration capabilities. A friend of mine has even gone so far as to edit the key bindings in Sawfish so he can completely avoid using the mouse in the pure Sawfish platform he's got running.

Sawfish fills a good niche in the X server arena. It runs as an excellent supporting structure for the desktop environment above it, but it can also easily stand on its own as a sold, easy-to-configure interface.

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