29 May 2009

Exit Translator's Workbench, enter SDL Trados Studio

Today SDL Trados Technologies has presented its new flagship product SDL Trados Studio 2009 in Antwerp. The imminent release of this new CAT solution marks the end of an era. Fifteen years after the launch of TRADOS Translator's Workbench, the market-leading translation memory tool is about to be replaced by a radically new productivity enhancement solution for translators and project managers. Will SDL succeed in continuing the success story?

After SDL acquired Trados in 2005, it was obvious that the SDLX and Trados translation solutions would not continue to exist side by side. Still, it has taken SDL four years to combine the best of both products and to add innovative ideas to create a new, integrated environment - no longer a "workbench" (with my two left hands, I've always found the DIY connotations of this term rather frightening), but a more sophisticated "studio".

Segment translated in Microsoft Word with SDL Trados Translator's Workbench

In the classic Trados universe, Microsoft Word was the preferred translation environment. Yet, this approach had many weaknesses, such as the fragility of the Trados segment delimiters (or "purple thingies") and the frequent occurrence of unintentional formatting changes. TagEditor, although a stable and technologically advanced alternative, seemed to lack visual appeal and usability, making it one of the most controversial tools in the translator community.

The new SDL Trados Studio 2009, as today demonstrated by SDL's Tracey Byrne, offers a very different approach. The new translation editor displays source and target segments in a spreadsheet-like column view, with an impressive real-time preview pane as a bonus. Tags are hidden whenever possible, but are still visible when this is needed for localization purposes. Formatting can be copied from source to target segment in a variety of ways, all of which seem faster and easier than the "get placeable" concept in older Trados versions. Predictive sub-segment suggestions may considerably speed up typing.

Reviewers and project managers will appreciate the more refined quality assurance checks, filtered views, status flags and tons of additional features. In fact, with so many options, commands, menus and buttons, the screen could easily become cluttered, but customizable views and auto-hiding panes enable the user to create a surprisingly clear working environment.

The importance of some innovative (and patented) features of SDL Trados Studio 2009 is highlighted by the use of fancy names like RevleX (the new XML-based translation memory format), QuickPlace (a feature to quickly copy formatting, tags, variables etc.) and AutoSuggest (suggested terms and phrases to speed up typing).

In the coming weeks, I'll discuss some of these features in more detail. For now, one thing is certain: we're about to witness some interesting times. How eager will the traditional Trados users be to adopt this new platform? Will they feel disoriented and become nostalgic about the good old purple thingies and bizarre command names like Set/Close Next no 100% Open/Get? Or will SDL Trados Studio 2009 represent the quantum leap that wipes out these old memories for good?

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12 May 2009

Choosing the right translation tools

When translation agencies or freelance translators are trying to decide which translation memory tools they should buy, they are easily mislead. Marketing messages like "boost your productivity" or "maximum efficiency" may sound tempting, but usually conceal a blind spot in the tool vendors' claims.

A translation service provider's first concern should be compatibility. You need to be compatible with your client's formats, tools and workflow. If most of your clients produce documents with Microsoft Office, then by all means make sure that you have access to one or more Office licences, preferably in all popular flavours (2007, 2003, XP).

Likewise, if 80 percent of your (potential) clients use Trados, then investing in the same Trados version should be your number one priority. If other CAT tools like Star Transit, MemoQ or Across are leading in your market niche, then don't hesitate to choose the best match.

Most translation tools claim compatibility with one another, usually through standards such as TMX or XLIFF. But in my experience, the average translation project is already complex enough, even if the same version of the same tool is used by all parties involved in the process. Any additional conversion steps from one tool or format to another may cause unnecessary trouble, delays, or data corruption.

If you're a service provider, the inherent qualities or price of a tool only represent secondary reasons to adopt a solution. Whether or not you can seamlessly step into your client's process, that's the key to success.

Moreover, in an ever-changing market, it may be wise not to put all your eggs in one basket. Invest in multiple translation memory systems if that is what is needed to cover your customer base. It will be money well spent.

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