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OmegaT, a review

I have long been curious about OmegaT, mostly for 2 reasons:

  1. OmegaT is the last free CAT on the market still being developped (that I know of)
  2. OmegaT is written in Java, and therefore relatively platform independent.

“Platform independent”, yes, but to run it, you need Java J2RE. In Windows that means you need to download it and install it, which will take some time. It also needs OpenOffice.org to handle the most usual files (word, xls,...) and that's a heck of a download, but still, once installed, it will work on Linux, Mac and Windows, and any other OS that runs Java's virtual machine.

Anyway, as I said, I got curious, so taking advantage of the fast connection I was on, I downloaded the whole thing, and installed Java, OOo and of course OmegaT. Then I proceeded right away with the manual, and my first translation in OmegaT. I do not pretend to be an expert of OmegaT, but I still had an opportunity to experience it first hand (about 10,000 words with it so far), and some knowledge of several other CATs (Wordfast, Trados, Transit, Translator studio, ...) provides me with a handy comparison.

This review will be rather straightforward and organized as follows:

  1. Description
  2. Advantages
  3. Issues
  4. Conclusion/Opinion

1. Description

  • Installation:

    Assuming you already have Java J2RE and OpenOffice.org installed, installing OmegaT itself is a breeze. You just unzip it in a folder, and that's it. However, installing Java and OOo will be a bit more demanding, and you have to download 'em too, probably one of the reasons why few people currently use OmegaT.

    On Linux, installation/running is a tad more difficult -requires writing a small shell file- but, hey, what's new? (The explanation on the manual is nearly good enough for a newbie to figure it out with minimal tweaking!)

  • Translation process:

    When you run OmegaT, it shows up in 2 separate windows, one for the translation, the other one for matches and glossary. First, you have to create a project, which is pretty easy. Click on “Files/Create New project”, select the folders (the default folders will be best usually).

    Then, you have to copy your source files in the source folder of the project using your file explorer. If you have TMs (in TMX 1 format), copy them in the TM folder. Same procedure for glossaries (in tab delimited format). Once this is done, you are ready to start the translation: Go to File/Open, and select the project file (which has been created for you in the root folder of the project).

    Your file will appear in the main window. Press Enter to start the translation. When you are done with the segment, just press Enter. To return to the previous segment, press Ctrl+P. You simply press Enter to move on. Real easy.

  • File formats.

    OmegaT handles text files, HTML files and any file that can be opened in OpenOffice.org. That includes RTF, and most importantly Word/Excel documents, thanks to a series of powerful filters. However, filters are not the real thing and some intricate formatting could be messed up. Still, it remains OK for the very large majority of the jobs.

  • Segmentation

    OmegaT now support several segmentation rules, including sentence level segmentation. This allows a good level of interaction with other CAT tools, including TM compatibility. Originally, OmegaT supported paragraph-level segmentation only and its interface was therefore designed to display a lot of text for each segment. For this reason, it remains quite convenient where paragraph level segmentation is necessary whereas other CATs can experience display issues with long segments.


2. Advantages

  • Fast

    Changing from one segment to the next is near instant, at least on average files. (Haven't tried anything longer then a few thousand words).

    According to the manual however, OmegaT does get much slower when several large files (containing many segments) are added to the “source folder”. The work around is however not too difficult. See the ASAD manual for more data if you come across this problem

    I have experienced no noticeable slow down with 5000 words, which is a fair size for an individual file.

  • Good paragraph segmentation support

    This is very interesting for literary, marketing and legal documents. Indeed, to produce a good translation on a marketing document, it is often necessary to read a full paragraph and rephrase it, rather then going sentence by sentence. Not all documents can be translated sentence by sentence, and this approach may result in a poor translation. Each sentence may have been translated correctly, but the style is lost. It doesn't flow. On a marketing document, translation often requires one to rephrase a whole paragraph and combine sentences.

    It must be noted that paragraph segmentation is available on most CAT tools, but sometimes causes display issues.

  • Platform independent

    Can be gotten to run on any platform...BUT it requires Java J2RE, which is seldom present on Windows machines, and to do any real work, OOo is a must – free too, but 60 some Mb to download.

  • Simplicity of operation

    Once you have learned to press Enter to change segment, and Ctrl+P to go back to the previous one, that's it. There are nearly no bells and whistle, and nothing to distract your attention, so you simply focus on the translation.

  • File structure.

    A nice thing to note (especially for website localization) is that OmegaT preserves the structure, including nested subdirectories and all non translatable files, in the final output. This makes it a tool of choice for website translation. (The OmegaT tags however need to be learned to do a good job, because you can't see the actual tags)

  • Search function

    The search function of OmegaT is quite nice, with support for a couple wildcards, * and ?. You can search the TM as well, and you can also use a keyword search (a bit like an internet search engine: search for “game” and “bob”, and it will bring up all segments which contain those 2 words).

    Double-click on the segment you are interested in and you will be brought to the segment itself.

  • Preview

    Preview is not the right term, but that's close enough. You can compile the files at any time during the translation, and it is reasonably fast. This means you can always see were you stand in the final file, a most accurate preview. This is very useful when working with HTML files, as you can see what it looks like, and what goes where.

  • Price

    What's cheaper then free?

  • Open Source/GNU

    Open source means that you can access the source (Duh!) so if you are able to program in Java, you can customize it as you like/need, and integrate it with other java programs. While this is clearly not for the average user, it could prove useful later. If you spend your days on a computer, soon or later, you will dig a bit of programming, and when you do, Open Source is a dream come true.


3. Issues

  • Glossary

    The glossary function is very clumsy. You have to add terms by opening the glossary in a text editor. OmegaT needs to be restarted if you want it to recognize new terms from the glossaries, and when it recognizes them, you still have to type the translation yourself.

  • Display

    The segments are not nicely displayed and the font settings are a little skimpy. Of course, this is somewhat a matter of taste, but since you are looking at it for hours at a time while working, ...

  • Search function issues

    The segment number given is wrong (as per my trial).

    The search window remains in focus after you double click on a result, so you may not see the segment and it feels like nothing happened.

    Once you got to the segment you searched, there is no easy way to get back to the segment you were previously working on.

  • Spellchecking/other functions

    “Simple” features like spellchecking require major tweaking to install. You can tweak and tweak and even reprogram the whole thing -it's GNU- but obviously most users are not computer litterate enough to do so, so they have to do without, for now.

  • Tag handling.

    You can see where the tags are and move them quite easily, but you don't know what they are. That means you have to keep a copy of the document open to check what the tags are. That said, OmegaT can compile the files at any time, so you can easily get a preview.

    Because it handles the translation in a simple text editor, OmegaT turns simple word/rtf files into tagged documents, so you need to know how to handle tagged files, and you need to check the tags integrity, even for simple *.rtf files. Further, if you want to add formatting, you will have to do it outside (in OOo for instance), because it can't be done in OmegaT.

  • Lack of support for other CAT formats

    Apart from a serious amount of tweaking, you can not use OmegaT for Wordfast/Trados files. Since OmegaT is in a minority position on the market, compatibility is important. A translator doesn't translate alone, but integrates within a team, (be it his own team or that of his customer) and must therefore be able to exchange easily his work files with others. That said, if you are ready for the tweaking, it can be done, but not within OmegaT itself.


4. Conclusion / Opinion

On OmegaT, the TM offers very few good matches and OmegaT unfortunately lacks the tools to compensate for that. It can not be configured to meet specific needs, and the glossary function is poor. To develop into a mainstream tool, OmegaT will have to implement better glossary functions, develop subsegment matching and create other functions to compensate for the lack of matches. There is room for improvement in the appearance of the program. OmegaT should also have a simple routine to work on Trados segmented files and produce them if needed.

However, having OmegaT is a nice complement to your range of translation tools, because thanks to its good paragraph segmentation support, it is possible to handle properly marketing documents comfortably. Target and source language can widely differ in their ways to express ideas, and some documents just can't be translated sentence by sentence. When this is the case, other CATs are less effective, and OmegaT is a good alternative. It's also quite fast and does not distract you from your work. I just hope it will develop more of the features we expect from professional CATs.

If you don't have a CAT yet, you may as well start with this one, and if you have one, you may still need occasionally an easy way to deal with long-winded, verbose-addicted writers, OmegaT's main edge.

OmegaT's home page gives you links to the download site and documentation in a no-nonsense fashion.

Download recommended.

Sylvain Galibert

*See “CAT, beware of the beast”.