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May 7, 2009

Waterloo?

Last month while I was sitting in a session of the MemoQ Fest listening to the presentations, I received an interesting e-mail from Atril, the maker of Déjà Vu X, my primary translation environment tool (TEnT). I should have been excited. One of the reasons I was in Budapest was because I have grown discouraged at the failure of Atril to show signs of life: support its users, keep us informed of release dates for new versions and the usual stuff one expects. Oh yes, and fix bugs too. By doing nothing, Atril still does better than the market leader SDL Trados, where marketing bullshit long ago replaced real innovation and "support" is infamous. But as my partner is fond of saying, that comparison is "bog standard". I'm not alone in my concerns; many long time users are worried and are looking at their options.

So we should have been excited about an announcement that Atril had signed an exclusive agreement with PowerLing, a French company, to distribute and support Déjà Vu in a number of European countries, right? It makes a certain weird sense I suppose: "déjà vu" is a French phrase, so why not a French company to support it? Even if no one has ever heard of this company. The French under Napoleon once conquered most of Europe, so maybe these guys can march the product across Europe to victory, to the very gates of Moscow and beyond - or at least to Budapest.

Well, before they get marching, they'd better take a look at their boots and check their provisions. After a major announcement like that, you'd expect some action, right? More press releases, a bold training initiative perhaps? Something? Instead we have silence. I see that the PowerLing web site is localized into Dutch, because the idiot who designed the site failed to build in language detection, and I see Dutch right now as the default language. I like Dutch a lot, and I can even understand it somewhat, but this seems rather amateurish to me, because even ten years ago it was child's play to build a language-based redirect into a web page. Then there's the DVX blog. Or not. They set one up - two weeks counting and still no posts beside the welcome post - but it's done on typepad.com, not on a site they control. I currently manage two blogs - this one using free hosting from Google and another using Wordpress software on my own domain. This blog was my first experience with blogging, and if I had known at the start what I know now, I would have gone for my own site right away. It's much, much more flexible. So for serious business and support it really is the most professional way to go (hint, hint).

The press release (see the Atril site to read it) didn't say much of a specific nature about PowerLing. Just a lot of vague statements that failed to inspire confidence. Everything has a rather shoddy, improvised feel to it, which is disappointing given that Déjà Vu has been the leading professional productivity software for translators for years. And seeing Atril surrender control to a French company for supporting the German-speaking world just seems strange to me. I don't think this is going to work, though I hope it does somehow.

In the future I hope I can report enthusiastically on the turnabout that has resulted from this new partnership between Atril and PowerLing. But right now it looks like the victory march may be headed to Waterloo.

4 comments:

  1. I still have that copy of DV X standard here, which I am not using at the moment for various reasons, and I was always wondering why on earth Atril never contacted me to offer upgrade options, etc. I received the same message as you about the PowerLing collaboration, but that's been it. Either their business must be going extremely well or they just don't care how their business is going. My impression is that they don't need the money they get from licenses sold to freelance translators. Maybe they're making more money with corporate licenses.

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  2. I can't say much about Atril's marketing history except that I've been grateful not to be spammed with "offers" every other day like the Evil Empire does. When I did finally get an interesting upgrade offer a few months ago (which would have saved me more than 400 euros on another DVX Workgroup upgrade - I chose not to do it, because the future of the product is too uncertain for me right now), I think it was a first in almost 10 years. Well, maybe a second or third. But clearly they aren't hungry, or folks at the company are painfully shy. We all miss the days when things were very different, and amazing support was given even at ridiculous hours.
    I am frankly baffled at how Atril has managed to squander so much good will over the past several years. The company had a sterling reputation and a leading product, and users who remind me sometimes of Mac fanatics in the early days. The product is still one of the best, but serious issues have been ignored too long, and there is no meaningful communication about the future. This doesn't have to be.

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  3. I had a few concerns at the PowerLing thingie, and I expressed them on the DVX beta Yahoogroup (which nowadays contains as much conjecture as every other discussion site on DVX) to give Atril a chance to consider the issues without washing its linen under public gaze.

    But this provoked a public statement by Daniel Benito on the Atril forum at http://forums.atril.com/ubbthreads7/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=4067#Post4067 (quoting my post).
    Basically, Daniel asks us to be patient in the hope that all will be well. Like you, I would be pleased if he is proved right.
    Interestingly, Daniel admits in this post that another of Atril's babies (TransRef) is basically a failed idea waiting to be scrapped (or possibly revamped).

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  4. Interesting post Victor. I don't visit The Beast often these days, so I probably would have missed it. That is technically a good forum, and I wish it were used more often, but the inertia of the DVX seems to be with the English Yahoogroups list. Everything else is just a small eddy on the side of the river. The story seems to be the same with MemoQ right now, where most of the info I see flows via Yahoogroups.

    TransRef. I forgot about that. I think of it mostly as the only translator's directory that has gotten me no referrals whatsoever. That's quite an accomplishment, too. Nice idea, but the working rule for all these companies ought to be "fish where there is something in the water to bite". Efforts would be better spent with PR and support on public sites where others shoulder most of the content burden. SDL goes another way for sure, but I don't go to the translationzone.com site or lspzone to look for useful, objective info.

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