Nov 25, 2014

My first project with memoQ 2014 Release 2

When I got my first look at the test version of the upcoming memoQ release, memoQ 2014 R2, I argued with  Kilgray that it ought to be called memoQ 2015 instead, not only because the year 2014 is almost over, but because this software represents a major break with the old interface design. Kilgray likes to point out that there are not so many new features being introduced here - perhaps a mere "dozen" give or take a bit - but just one of these - the new ribbon interface - has its own 50 page manual. Meu deus.

On the whole I am coming to view the rapid pace of development for some CAT tools in a rather negative light. I rather like the current memoQ 2014 release, but I am not even close to coming to grips with the 70+ new features introduced earlier this year (which has probably grown to 100+, depending on how you want to count them). I think back to my experiences as a corporate systems consultant in the archiving and document management sector and those working with a state department of transportation before that, where many thousands of networked workstations and other systems had to be managed for maximum productivity and minimum disruption. It took me a while back then to understand why, after many months of thorough testing at enormous cost, an upgrade for  something like Internet Explorer was permitted for the version two whole numbers below the current one. I eventually learned that these big organizations were not so dumb after all: being on the "leading edge" is too often the same as the "bleeding edge", which can have considerable, unanticipated costs.

This is the reason why for years I have advised my clients and colleagues not to consider new versions of any tool for routine production use until several months at least past its release date, and to use "roundtrip testing" in every instance to ensure that a technically usable result can be obtained from every project. Ultimately, Kilgray and others are going to have to determine whether constantly stirring the feature pot in a way that too often makes established workflows obsolete is in the best interests of their clientele and market future. Despite all the trendy talk of the benefits of disruption and "creative destruction" I am unconvinced that this is the case.

However, I do see very good reasons for the major changes to the interface in memoQ 21014 Release 2, and I think that new features like the limited sharing of online translation memories and termbases (with an open API in the future to allow access by other tools I'm told) are an excellent intermediate stage for those who aren't quite ready to move up to a team server solution like memoQ Cloud or the greater access capacity of the full memoQ Server license but who still need realtime data sharing for projects with a partner from time to time.

Kilgray's blog has a good post describing the basic shift in the logic of the environment from cataloging commands as one might in a library or inventory system to organization by the normal sequence of work. This makes a lot of sense, and this is also the way I teach new users to use the software, with small sets of features organized according to the sequence of typical work.

After spending about a week just staring at the new ribbons, I decided to do my first small, low-risk commercial project with the test version. Everything went quite well, but I had to fight a sense of disorientation as I kept looking for commands in the lower area of the screen, which is now free for viewing more files and file information in a project. In some cases, I had to get used to clicking on the little arrows under icons rather than the icons themselves. Nothing I needed was difficult to locate, but as a longtime user of memoQ with many ingrained habits, I will take some time getting used to this, after which my work will probably proceed even more smoothly. In any case, it is clear to me that new users will find their way more quickly with this new, workflow-based interface.

This impression of greater ease for new users was reinforced by remarks from a colleague in my office a few days ago. Her professional background prior to her activities in translation was as an educational psychologist and adult education teacher, and when I began to complain about how awful the new ribbons were and how uncomfortable I felt with them, she patiently explained how I had it all wrong and why the new design was much more logical and easier to use. Years ago I teased SDL Trados users who bitched at first about the change from the nasty old over/under TWB interface to the tabular working environment of SDL Trados Studio only to become enthusiasts later when they realized how much their workflows had improved; I fear that I will also become a just target for such teasing.

I don't want to admit it, really, but I am already beginning to like those awful ribbons, which are perhaps rather useful after all. And if I really don't want to look at them, they can be hidden with just a click, leaving me with even more working space on my screen. So all right, I'll say it. Reluctantly. Good job, Kilgray.

Now who is going to re-do all the screenshots and videos for my tutorials?


  1. I started testing R2 six days ago. During this time I've worked on a large project for ~140k words and several smaller ones, including one corpus creation with manual alignment and two or three template projects. The only problem I had with ribbon was some strange design decisions with LiveDocs ribbon and a single non-working keyboard shortcut, which should already be fixed. And while I was skeptical with regard to ribbon, it's really much more useful than standard menus. Even the grouping most of the time makes great sense.

    1. Thank you, Marek - I had intended to ask your opinion privately, and I think that in the end we'll all converge on the opinion that the ribbon design really is more useful than the old menus. But as trainers we'll still face the challenge for a while that many new users will still have to learn the old interface to work on server-based projects for clients who have not upgraded. That will be an interesting balancing act and one, I think, where the focus on processes rather than specific features will be most important.

  2. FWIW I went through a similar process when DVX3 appeared with the ribbon. I raged against it at first, but now I quite happily work with it. Perhaps this experience is somehow correlated with our age and the number of years we have been working with our tools?

  3. Ribbon vs. no ribbon - I think it really depends how the ribbon is implemented, and how the menus that it replaces were implemented.

    For me the memoQ ribbon is probably going to be an improvement: I haven't used memoQ so often in the past as to have formed really ingrained habits. Also, the memoQ menus did not include (as far as I know) customizable toolbars that could be displayed or not based on the translator's way of working.

    On the other hand, Studio 2011 did offer such toolbars, so the move to a non-customizable ribbon was, for me, a big step backward. Even so, I hear from many translators who don't use Studio as often as I do that they find the ribbon easier to work with.

    An important thing is how much the ribbon is customizable: MS Office offers a very customizable Quick Access toolbar - I've taken full advantage of that to put there the commands that I know I use frequently and that otherwise would be buried in some illogical place on the MS Word ribbon (for the rest, I use the very handy UBit menu replacement).

    On the other hand, Studio has a non-customizable Quick Access toolbar (it is "customizable", according to SDL - in that you can choose whether to display it above or below the ribbon, but you cannot change the commands that appear on it), and that for me is a big problem (the commands SDL in its infinite wisdom chose to add to the Quick Access toolbar are not among those I would use often).

    I haven't installed memoQ 2014 R2, yet, so I don't know how they dealt with the QuickAccess toolbar. I hope they made it customizable.

    1. It's not customizable in this iteration, Riccardo, but I think a dedicated ribbon on which one could build one's own workflow-oriented custom command selection would be a damned fine thing. Especially if multiple profiles for this could be created. But I would not make everything customizable, because that would create a support nightmare that I don't think you need me to describe. I was, however, griping at one of the designers today about some default choices for button behaviors (particularly for import) which do not reflect my routine needs not those of some other users I know, and I hope that in the future memoQ will have more capacity to remember user setting preferences or the last or recent choices made. This would save me a lot of time.

      One thing I found should make many individuals very happy. I looked at the last page of the version briefing document, which I think you also have, and started to use a yellow marker on the items in the long bullet list which were not rather important for individual translators as opposed to those clearly aimed at managing servers and large, multi-person projects. All but 6 items were clearly beneficial to individuals or small partner teams, and one of the most interesting to me was of no use to the corporate crowd whatsoever but gives me the functionality that was offered very reasonably to me a few years ago for several thousand euros - for free and with far less hassle.

      This whole ribbon thing, on the whole, is more beneficial to your average freelancer than server-using PMs and their hierarchy. It doesn't harm the latter, and they will clearly benefit as well, but they have more support resources usually to deal with complexity. So relatively speaking, the help for the small guys is greater.


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