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Ubuntu as an Operating System for Translation Professionals

A few months ago, I tested Ubuntu 10.10 to see whether the savings generated by using this free operating system for translation purposes instead of Microsoft Windows is worthwhile. Over a period of six months, I used Ubuntu to handle dozens of translation projects. This post outlines some of my findings:

The good news is that you can definitely use Ubuntu for translation. In fact, this OS leaves a much better impression than I originally expected. Ubuntu supports at least three translation environment tools: OmegaT (also free), Wordfast Pro, and Swordfish. It also provides most of the tools essential to running a translation business: OpenOffice.org (a viable alternative to Microsoft Office), Adobe Reader, web-browser, email client, instant messaging (including Skype), and many more.

What’s the catch then?

Because Ubuntu is not as popular and user-friendly as Windows, it doesn’t offer a similarly high level of user experience. The three most serious issues I encountered are as follows:

    1. Getting all your programs to work properly might take quite some time and require knowledge beyond basic PC user skills. If you want to deploy Ubuntu in a translation agency environment, you will also need to invest significant time in basic user training.
    2. While many programs a translator might need do have Ubuntu versions or Ubuntu provides alternative programs, there is a good chance that at least some of your favorite programs won’t be available under this OS. For me, this list included:

• Abbyy Lingvo (dictionary)

• Abbyy FineReader (OCR tool)

• Punto Switcher (automatically switches keyboard layout and quickly enters phrases that I use frequently)

• Foxit Reader (there was an Ubuntu version at the time of testing, but it didn’t allow editing PDF files as the Windows version does)

QA Distiller (quality assurance tool)

  1. Another major roadblock to using Ubuntu for translation purposes is compatibility issues. Instead of Microsoft Office, which is used by most companies and individuals, you will have to use OpenOffice.org. Although OOO is a great program and in fact supports Office files without any conversion, I found that this support is in name only. The program can indeed handle small and plain Office files successfully. With larger and more complex files, however, a roundtrip (Office – OOO — Office) often results in corrupted formatting. This means that if you often translate DOCX or PPTX files, you will likely end up using Office to check and adjust formatting after translation, because OOO won’t be able to produce a file that will display correctly in Office. Thus, handling such files will be very difficult, unless you have a separate Windows machine with Microsoft Office installed.

Based on this testing experience, I came to the conclusion that using Ubuntu for translation purposes instead of Windows is certainly possible, but may not be worthwhile. The main reason to use a free, but less popular OS is to save on license costs. This economy, however, is heavily offset by the significant amount of time and effort you will need to invest in getting the programs to work properly and dealing with compatibility issues. Although Ubuntu is a great operating system, I just don’t think it has any economic advantage over Windows for translators.

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About the Author

Roman Mironov
Roman Mironov
CEO & Founder

As the founder of Velior, Roman has had the privilege of being able to turn his passion for languages into a business. He has over 15 years of experience in the translation industry. Roman has helped dozens of clients increase sales by making their products appealing for speakers of other languages.