Open up

Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), according to my unscientific observations, seems to be gaining some traction in the translation industry. FOSS, software for which the source code is publicly available, is often (though not always) cost-free, and is often localized into more languages than is proprietary software. Now that I’m going steady with OmegaT, my own freelance business is running exclusively on FOSS, so it seemed like an opportune time to revisit the options for open source-minded translators.

The most basic choice in the FOSS spectrum is whether you want to run an open source operating system (such as our home’s distribution of choice, Ubuntu Linux) or run FOSS on top of your current operating system. If you don’t know anything about Linux and would like to learn more, check out your local Linux Users Group. Even if you live in Qatar or Kyrgystan, there’s a LUG there!

Nowadays, a lot of FOSS runs on non-free operating systems too. You can take your current machine, let’s say you’re running Windows, and install‘s free office suite, OmegaT, Firefox‘s web browser and you’re in business. Let’s take a look at the FOSS a translator might use, and what’s involved in staying compatible with the market leader proprietary software.

  • Office software: For best compatibility with Microsoft Office, use It contains a word processing program, spreadsheet, presentation program, database and drawing program, and as long as you are not using macros, is essentially completely compatible with Microsoft Office. Just go to File>Save As, then select the appropriate format, such as “Microsoft Word 97/2000/XP.” In 5+ years of freelance work, I have never had a client notice that my OO.o documents were not created with MS Office (and if they had asked, I would have told them). OO.o’s main incompatibility with MS Office is macros; because of the enormous differences between the two macro formats, software such as Trados and Wordfast, which depends on MS Office macros, will not run in OO.o. OO.o comes in Linux, Windows and Mac formats. And it’s cost-free.
  • Web browsing: This isn’t big news, since Firefox is quite mainstream. It’s a great web browser, and eminently customizable with lots of plugins, and runs on basically any operating system.
  • Translation memory: Heartsome jumped the proprietary gap by becoming the first commercially supported translation environment tool to both run on Linux (as well as Windows and Mac) and use file formats. I like Heartsome, although it has some speed issues on my computer (not necessarily Heartsome’s fault). Heartsome is inexpensive by TenT standards, but it’s not free. Personally I prefer OmegaT, which also runs on pretty much any operating system (definitely Linux, Mac and Windows) and uses OO.o file formats. I find it much faster than Heartsome, the people who develop and manage it are very pleasant and helpful, and it’s free.
  • If you want to run Linux but still have to run some software that doesn’t have a Linux version (i.e. Photoshop, Quicken, Lotus Notes, FrameMaker, etc.), check out CrossOver Linux (the same company produces CrossOver Mac), a handy tool that allows you to legally run Windows software on your Linux machine without a Windows license. If you want to run Wordfast on Linux, it will work if you use CrossOver Linux. First install CrossOver Linux, then MSOffice, then Wordfast. You can read a page on my website about it here.
One Response to “Open up”
  1. tony May 8, 2008

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