In my very honest opinion, translation technology has operated much in the same way for the past twenty years. In the 90s, Translator’s Workbench started taking off as a translation technology tool. To this day, known as SDL Studio since its acquisition by SDL in 2005, it is revered as the industry standard in CAT Tools. But I would like to pose some questions. Is SDL Studio the best tool for all or most of the industry’s needs? Does SDL Studio pass the kindergarten test (does it ‘play well with others’)? Is SDL particularly responsive to the support needs and functionality needs of its users? With so many other tools on the market, is Studio the best bang for your buck? More likely than not, SDL is not the end all-be all of CAT tool solutions and if one were to blindly adhere to Studio and only Studio (or any one program for that matter), CAT tool technology will pass him or her by and he or she will be left crying in the dust; here, you’ll need these.
So let’s look into the different CAT tools and see what various benefits or downfalls exist. First and foremost, let us establish that Integrated Translation Environments pretty much operate in the same way; the basic functionality of all of them is the displaying of source and target text and translation memory matches. If all you are looking for is a program to assist in the translation of MS office documents, by all means, buy a CAT tool as a commodity and go for the lowest price – I want the Honda Civic, not the Reliant Robin.
For many, the native operating system of a tool is the biggest attraction. Some tools only run on Windows, some are web-based, and others run on java and are thus able to be run on any operating system. The two most prevalent programs, Trados Studio and MemoQ, run natively on Windows but can be run on OS X in a cross platform solution – a virtual machine. There is an issue when running these programs in a parallel environment that Mac users need to be aware of: these programs need to have the Windows folder structure (c:\) mapped in order to function, if the shared folder structure (psf\) is used, the programs will crash.
Java platform-based tools are appealing because Java works on Windows, OS X, and Linux-based operating systems. The downside of these tools is that with the current tools available, there is limited functionality. Java platform based tools include OmegaT, WordFast, and GlobalSight.
The most common of these would be WordFast. WordFast exists in four different versions, WordFast Classic, WordFast Pro (3), WordFast Anywhere, and WordFast Server. For the purposes of addressing freelance translators, I will only be discussing WordFast Pro 3 – WordFast Classic is an MS Office add-in (a set of macros) and relies on antiquated technology, WordFast Anywhere is free, web-based, and is greatly limited in functionality in comparison with other tools available. In addition, WordFast Autoaligner for WordFast Anywhere is quite possibly the worst alignment tool ever imagined. With Autoaligner, you upload the files you would like to align, it identifies the source and target files (which can be switched), you put in your e-mail address, and it sends you a translation memory – because we all know running alignments are always just as easy as that.
The WordFast Pro 3 user interface is toolbar based and lacks essential features that are available in other tools, like a real-time preview. The alignment tool is a separate application, and editing resources within the application is a pipe dream. The only resources available to you are a translation memory, a glossary, and machine translation is available via Google, Microsoft, and WorldLingo. While WordFast works on all operating systems and has the cheapest initial cost price of the three main translation programs, with limited licensing (licenses [$500/each for WordFast Pro 3] are granted for a period of three years and can be renewed after that period for 50% of the full list price), limited functionality, and antiquated often user-unfriendly UI, WordFast is last on my list of software recommendations (do not worry, I have said this to WordFast representatives’ faces when asked why WordFast was not my go-to CAT tool). In a nutshell, WordFast tries to execute multiple functionality and provide multiple options for a CAT tool and does not do any of them well. You can try out WordFast Pro with a free trial that allows you to translate up to 500 translation units (you may want to pass); this trial may be found here.
Web-based CAT tools
Web-based applications include a variety of services such as MemSource, MemoQ Cloud, XTM, WordFast Anywhere and one of the newest CAT tools, MateCat. It should go without saying that every single one of these tools should be used with caution (for more information, see my post on Data Storage and Security); in fact, a big part of me wants to dismiss these solutions immediately because of the potential risk to confidential information like the vulnerability of translation memories and glossaries, or the potential leak of information to a third party through the machine translation add-ons (see my post on Machine Technology and Internet Security from 9 December 2014). However, there is great value in the collaboration abilities possible through MemoQ Cloud (also possible with MemoQ Server) and XTM – this ability allows for all members of a workflow to collaborate on a project at the same time for example, it facilitates communication between a translator and the editor and/or terminologist and proofreader. This type of collaboration is ideal for companies that need to process large document in a short amount of time. This capability is only available with premium services like MemoQ Cloud and XTM and despite the fact that the free web-based CAT tools use https, I would still be cautious before sending documents to WordFast Anywhere or MateCat.
Now, on to the Windows-based translation tools. Programs in this category include SDL Studio, MemoQ, and Déjà vu. Now, before I begin this section, I would like to establish the grounds and acknowledge that I am a MemoQ trainer, I am a MemoQ evangelist, and loudly sing its praises at conferences. My bias ends there. If I recommend something to someone, I am doing it because I was in the rare position to weigh all my options and have determined that my recommendation was the best fit for me and may be for my audience as well; a luxury not very many in this profession have.
SDL Trados Studio
Trados Studio continues to be the leader in CAT tools and I do not need to toot its horn or stroke its ego; but a positive thing about Studio is its translation window UI. The UI is tab-based and gives it a very user-friendly feel. It looks and feels a lot like working in MS Office, a definite plus. While the UI can be very comforting while translating, in navigating the program on the whole, the layout takes some getting used to.
In my honest opinion, it boggles my mind that use of Studio continues to be so widespread despite areas where it falls short. Customer support has always been lacking from SDL. If you call them on the phone for help, chances are you will not talk to anyone. If you try to e-mail them, you will not get a response. I went to an SDL lunch where they were showing off new features for Studio 2011 and how if a computer is connected to the internet, the user accesses the most up to date help file. I asked the representative if when the computer is connected to the internet, a local version of the help file was updated, he did not know but said he would find out for me. I took his card and sent him an e-mail later that day asking my question and never received a response.
Regarding the technical aspects, Trados Studio does not play very well with others. In fact, instead of listening to user’s needs and building additional functionality it went the desultory route and created SDL OpenExchange a place where third-party developers can create applications for Studio. Do you want interoperability? No problem, download the app. Do you want to exchange the proprietary SDLXliff file format to TMX? No worries, there’s an app for that. Problem with an app? No… oh, I guess you have to go back to OpenExchange, get the developer’s contact information, and contact the developer directly. That is a bit inconvenient especially considering that in order to gain the functionality you need; you needed to download a separate application from OpenExchange in the first place, is it not? When you are in the middle of a project and you have a problem, you need to be able to go to one point of contact and get the solution fast. OpenExchange is therefore not really the best possible solution for increasing functionality.
So now let’s look at price. A Studio 2014 Freelance license can be purchased for $825.00, if you already have a Studio 2011 license, you can purchase an upgrade for $275 (≈33% for the full list price). Unlike WordFast, once you buy a license for a version of Studio, that version is yours forever. When SDL issues a new version of Studio, you must buy an upgrade to get the newest, most up to date version of Studio. You can try out SDL Trados Studio for a free 30-day trial here.
So how about price? A Translator Pro license for MemoQ is $770.00 and a yearly support and upgrade package can be purchased at 20% of the full list price (about $153) this includes all updates and upgrades, if you had MemoQ 2013 R2 when MemoQ 2014 was released and your support and upgrade package was current, you received MemoQ 2014.
The main reason why I tell people to try MemoQ is because they truly can. Right now, anyone can download MemoQ 2014 R2 abandon their current CAT tool, and use MemoQ as their sole CAT tool for 45 days. You can try out MemoQ by clicking here. Only once have I heard anyone say anything bad about MemoQ and based on how they worded their e-mail, it was clear that the person did not understand the current state of CAT tools as a whole.
So to bring it back around full-circle, I would like to reiterate that those who create hardware or software in any form must always be focused and remain cognizant of how users use the technology and how they could want to use the technology in the future – SDL is the magnetic stripe to Kilgray’s EMV Chip and PIN. I am of the opinion that because of programming innovations and responsiveness to customers’ needs, one truly does stand out above the rest. These are my opinions and I acknowledge that what is currently the ideal program for me may not be the ideal program for someone else, or may not be my ideal program in the future. I also recognize that I did not go into very much detail on the programs, and if anyone reading this would like me to do so, I would be more than happy to.
One last thought to end this post: if I represent an LSP and SDL offers translation services, why would I give money to a [perceived] competitor to use their product when I can give it to a company that also produces great CAT Tool software but is not a competitor in respects to also offering translation services?