Jan 13, 2019

A second look at Wordfast Pro

The generally good impression made by Wordfast Anywhere in my recent tests inspired me to take a new look at the premium environment for freelance translators: Wordfast Pro 5. A lot has changed with Wordfast Pro since its early days, and much of what I found troublesome with early versions has been corrected. A new look has also been on my agenda for a while since I realized that two new formats were introduced (TXLF, an XLIFF format, and GLP, a zipped project package format for Wordfast), which can be handled by my usual translation environment but (currently) with a few extra steps required compared to the old TXML format.

The installation took about a minute and started off with a good impression from the warning about cloud drive synchronization:

I've seen a number of people come to grief with other tools when their projects, translation memories or other resources are stored in Dropbox or similar configurations so they can be shared by installations on different computers, and I appreciate Wordfast's attempt to warn people off from this dodgy practice. If you want to share resources, play it safe and stick them in Wordfast Anywhere.

At first, the program is in demo mode, which limits translation memories to 500 translation units (TUs) and does not allow access to remote resources such as Wordfast Anywhere. Fortunately, there is a fully functional 30-day trial available, and it took all of about two minutes to fill out the simple request form, receive the mail with the trial license key and activate it in Wordfast Pro 5.

I was really enthusiastic about the clean, uncluttered feel of the interface. There's a lot more functionality in SDL Trados Studio or memoQ, but all the myriad features of those environments can be intimidating to some, and even for experienced users navigation can be confusing at times to locate some obscure setting or feature. Not in Wordfast Pro 5: the features mostly aren't there, and what is there can be found without much ado. Given the limited scope of mastery and inclination to learn on the part of many hamsters running on the freelance translation wheel, this can be a definite advantage.

On the Help ribbon I saw a Feedback icon. I don't know why, but this inspired a weird enthusiasm in me, so I clicked it, and when the dialog appeared, I wrote a quick note to the development team to say what a great impression the new user interface was making before I had even started to do anything useful with it. I noticed that the feedback dialog also had options to include files and projects in case of a problem, which I also thought was really cool. Something like that in other tools would be very helpful to their users and probably encourage more suggestions and interaction.

It was really easy to navigate through the ribbon menus and explore the configuration options. I was pleased to see that different sets of keyboard shortcuts were available to make the ergonomics easier for users of some other tools.

But SDLX? Huh? That's kind of Jurassic. No memoQ shortcuts, but no problem. I can customize, right? Yes... but I soon discovered that I apparently had no way to save my customized shortcuts as "memoQ style" or whatever else I might want to call them. And then I noticed that I probably can't save the configuration to move it onto a second computer where the terms of the license agreement allow private individuals to install another copy. And, hmmmm, no option to print a cheat sheet I can refer to as I learn the keyboard shortcuts. memoQ users are kind of spoiled on both counts, I guess.

One thing I was very eager to try was the connection to my translation memories and glossaries in my Wordfast Anywhere account. That proved to be quite straightforward: it worked exactly as the clear instructions of the Wordfast Pro Help described the process.

So I was ready to try out some translation, maybe a little dictation with Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I imported a little text file to get started:

WTF??? Now I know what the problem is here, but importing the same file to Wordfast Anywhere gives this result:

And in memoQ:

The import with the simple text filter of Wordfast Pro 5 (version 5.7) does not map the characters correctly. I had to change the source text file from ANSI to UTF-8: not a big deal for me, but a lot of translators I know will be over their heads right there.

The choice of import filters available is fairly good as one might expect from most professional translation environments these days, but two important things were missing for me. There seems to be no option to cascade filters, useful for example if you have a Microsoft Excel file containing HTML text to translate, and there is also no facility for configuring custom regex-based text filters or tagging text content which needs protection (such as placeholder text). This won't be an issue for a lot of translators, but for those who deal with challenging, often unexpected formatting issues in customers' files it could be a real pain in the neck.

On to dictation... Dragon NaturallySpeaking (DNS) seemed to perform well. I had to turn off the DNS dictation box by unmarking thew checkbox in its dialog. Text was then transcribed well into the target field, and my spoken keyboard shortcut to confirm a segment and go on to the next one worked perfectly. Then I misspoke and used a spoken editing command to correct my error. Nothing happened. I tried several different spoken selection and editing commands that I use every day in memoQ. Nothing worked. Shit. What we have here is a failure of compatibility. The full potential of Dragon NaturallySpeaking cannot be used in Wordfast Pro 5.

I explored the settings further... quality assurance. That looked pretty good; the options were easy to understand and I could set them as I wanted to check my work. But the QA settings I need vary in many projects, and sometimes I want to do a QA check on just one aspect like tags or maybe terminology. Wordfast Pro 5 offered no facility to save a QA configuration or profile and load it as one might do in SDL Trados Studio or memoQ. This too would be a deal-breaker for me, alas. I depend on a full hand of memoQ quality assurance profiles for selective checking of important quality parameters in my jobs. Toggling settings back and forth in Wordfast would drive me nuts. Still, this wouldn't disturb many CAT tool users who can barely be bothered to run a spelling check on their work, much less run a check or missing or mismatched tags.

In contrast to my conclusions years ago, I can now say that Wordfast Pro is "ready for prime time". It has a nice, clean, easy to navigate interface, and the Help descriptions are clear, if somewhat idiosyncratic in their spelling at times. The options are limited compared to other professional tools I use which have comparable costs of use, but that may be perceived as an advantage by many... until they need what's not there, which is probably inevitable if they work at translation in a full-time freelance capacity. Over the years I have heard many good things about Wordfast support, so I expect that users will at least find help and advice when they need it.

The integration with the online Wordfast Anywhere resources is also simple and good. That's a major point in favor of this tool and should be very helpful for collaboration.

Overall, I think that users who invest in a Wordfast Pro license will get their money's worth. A three-year license costs €400, with three-year renewals costing half the list price after that. If you aren't willing to pay after the three years, your license will stop working (unlike SDL Trados or memoQ, where the current license models allow you to keep working with the software long after your claim to support and upgrades has lapsed - basically "forever" if nothing strange happens with newer operating systems).

The possibilities for collaboration between Wordfast users and those who work with other environments are much better than they used to be, and in just a short time I was able to see how I can prepare projects for a colleague using Wordfast Pro 5. (SDL Trados packages can apparently be handled, though that's not the case for memoQ project packages prepared with the PM Edition - I would have to make MQXLIFF files and export TM and term base resources.) And I hope that this situation will only get better, with more environments offering various kinds of Wordfast resource integration and Wordfast acquiring new capacities to work with other formats and resources.

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