Jan 12, 2019

Another look at Wordfast Anywhere

The Wordfast suite of applications has a long history, and through much of it I've had my eye on the tools but up to now never really found them up to the demands of my work. Wordfast Classic (back when it was the only Wordfast app) was brought to my attention by an enthusiastic manager of a German bank's translation team more than 15 years ago; he found that the "blacklist" feature for terminology (since adopted by others - for example in memoQ's "forbidden" terms) was extremely helpful to his translators in avoiding terms which might provoke branding controversies or which were simply inappropriate in a particular specialist context.

When Wordfast Pro came along, I was disappointed in the interoperability of its early versions and it being late to the party for supporting XLIFF formats (as were some other popular tools). That issue is solved in the meantime, so I suspect I might not be quite so unhappy were I to revisit the application.

But really, Wordfast doesn't come onto my radar very often, and when it does, it's not so much the application suite itself as it is the Wordfast creator - Yves Champollion, who follows in a way the family tradition of the famous French Egyptologist, Jean-François Champollion, translator of the Rosetta Stone, and who has earned his own fair share of praise for his many years of support for individual translators and their professional organizations. It would not surprise me if much of the loyalty I find among users of Wordfast is inspired by the personal qualities of Yves as much as by any technical features of his tools.

The least among these tools was, in my consideration, the web-based Wordfast Anywhere (WFA). I looked at it briefly in the early days and was unimpressed: too limited, I thought. And the idea of translating in a browser seemed dubious to me, and it remains so in many scenarios that are relevant to my work. WFA was a bit ahead of its time, before the scamming Gold Rush that targeted corporate clients for web-based solutions designed to wrest data and control away from translators. WFA wasn't welcome in that party: its focus on empowering individual translators is anathema to most of the web CAT solutions ones sees today.

My interest in Wordfast generally was revived recently when I saw that memoQ has integration plug-ins for Wordfast term bases and translation memories on servers. This inspired the thought that perhaps Wordfast Anywhere might function as a collaboration server here, sort of like some had hoped for the Language Terminal resources, but one that actually works perhaps. Alas no, or not yet at least; the memoQ plug-in cannot "see" the WFA server and an individual account. Oh, but if it could....

Collaboration and interoperability between translation environments have been topics of great interest for me since I began to use specialist tools for organizing translation resources some 19 years ago. And on those occasions when I want to share resources with someone who does not have a professional suite of desktop translation resources, I'm always a little uncomfortable with my default recommendations, because they are just a little too nerdy to work well with everyone. So I wondered... how well might WFA work with resources I prepare in SDL Trados Studio or memoQ and pass on to a colleague unequipped with those tools or other desktop solutions. I thought I remembered limits that would restrict such an effort, but either my memory is wrong or these limits changed.

WFA can accept files to translate which are up to 20 MB in size. I receive files that are sometimes larger than this, but not routinely, so this is not much of a restriction. But then I thought the limit on translation memory size would be the stumbling block, and indeed, when I tried to upload a 390 MB TM with about 330,000 translation units, I got an error message telling me that 300 MB (or rather 300000000 with no indication of units!) was the limit. Looking in the online documentation I found that 100,000 TUs is the limit for an individual translation memory in WFA. But you can attach multiple TMs and term bases (which can be much larger as I saw from the 800,000+ entry IATE termbase supplied by the environment). And most TMs that I see for mid-size companies are well under that size limit.

So I spent some time kicking the virtual tires again. Uploaded some damned big EU directives in various formats, including bilingual alignments in an XLIFF. No problem. Loaded a big memoQ XLIFF file: the *.mqxliff extension wasn't recognized, but I fixed that the usual way by changing it to *.xlf and it worked well, roundtripping perfectly back to memoQ and confirming that interoperability would work well enough for collaboration.

Indeed, the range of original file formats handled by this free online translation environment is impressive.

As I browsed through the options and customizing features of the WFA environment, my respect for its capabilities increased further. The thought occurred to me at one point that this might even be suited as an environment for a small company with limited translation needs to manage its language resources and make them available for in-house or external translators. With the several exchange formats available, translators and reviewers could easily perform their work with other translation environment tools or even word processors, and the results could be merged with the master records in the WFA account. This is probably the least expensive, secure way for a company to take its first steps toward central management of its translations and terminology resources. No big server investments needed, and later all resources can be migrated easily to more sophisticated environments, such as a memoQ Server, if necessary.

Some years ago, I opposed the use of Wordfast Anywhere in a local university program, arguing instead that more established professional tools like SDL Trados Studio and/or memoQ should be used instead, especially as the cost of doing so is negligible in teaching curricula. I take that back now. And my impression is that WFA is better suited to a teaching program than other, perhaps slicker web-based tools, because of the underlying philosophy of its design, which leaves translators and their partners in control of the data, not some third-party provider inclined to carry out dubious data mining and use the results to sell more dodgy commercial solutions.

Wordfast users also know that their desktop software can access translation memories and term bases on a WFA account as remote resources. My last look at Wordfast Pro showed me that the tool had come a long, long way since I last dealt with it to clean up some messes a French translator inflicted on an agency client of mine. It's been on my list to look at further for some time; I know it will likely not meet my criteria for the broad range of translation, quality assurance and consulting tasks I do, but it does do a good job of covering the real, practical needs of many colleagues, and it is important to me to understand other translation environments to facilitate collaboration with people who use them.

And for these cases of working together with a mix of environments, it seems to me that Wordfast Anywhere can be a productive bridge to bring partners together. To create a free account and start testing Wordfast Anywhere, click here.

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