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Why Wordfast and not Trados?

UPDATE: This article was written a few years ago, before SDL's acquisition of Trados. Since then, many things have changed and today's Trados is very different from Trados then.

I am speaking here for a number of translators, who like me, decided to dispense with Trados and work with Wordfast. Trados is not exactly cheap, but after all, it is a professional tool, an investment, just like a computer or a dentist chair, and from that angle at least, it's not really that expensive. A good CAT is a must for a technical translator.

However, despite what they would have you believe, Trados is not the only choice, even when working with Trados files. There is a native compatibility between Wordfast and Trados which allows a Wordfast user to work on virtually any Trados project and produce segmented files that look and behave just like Trados’ own segmented files. However, Wordfast is not a mere clone for Trados, and frankly, it is a much better tool.

Overall, there are 3 main aspects involved in choosing a professional tool:

Is it cost effective? (Initial price, updates, running costs…)
Can it do the job? (Feature-wise)
Can you work with it? (Ease of use, learning curve, reliability, support responsiveness…)


1. Cost effectiveness

• Wordfast costs Euro 170 for western based translators (much less for translators based in less privileged countries). This is a one time fee. It comes with free updates for 3 years.

• Trados costs over Euro 600, and each subsequent update cost about Euro 200. [Back]

2. Feature comparison

There is hardly anything - if anything - you can do with Trados workbench and not do with Wordfast. However, the reverse is not true. Here are some of the features offering a clear edge to Wordfast:

Real time quality check: Wordfast can check terminology, spelling, tags, placeables (numbers, for instance), bookmarks… in real time. You don’t have to wait until the end with crossed fingers, hoping that you didn’t mess up the tags.

3 Glossaries in text format. Extremely useful to keep with customer terminology while using your own terminology files. Most glossaries you can find on the net can be turned into a Wordfast glossary within minutes. Trados does not even have one (MultiTerm is a dictionary application, and too clumsy to be used as glossary. Creating a Multiterm file from a glossary is a challenge at best, and takes time).

• Terminology input is as fast as it can be. A simple shortcut commits your terms to the glossary of your choice, right in Word.

• Glossary propagation (lots of settings) allows you to integrate the terminology seamlessly into your translation and can be an incredible time saver.

• Link to unlimited external dictionaries. You can consult any dictionary you normally use, right from Wordfast, including Multiterm. Trados gives you access to Multiterm only.

• Concordancer. A concordancer is a pretty useful tool for a translator working with technical documents. Trados does not provide one.

• Macro integration. You can use Word’s macros and create you own, but Wordfast goes one step further by allowing you to integrate macros at specific times (like just before you open a segment, just after you opened the segment, or at segment validation), which allows you to customize your tool for your needs.

• Target search and replace will allow you to run search and replace automatically on each segment.
• Clipboard respect between two segments. Meaning, if you copy something, it will still be there when you switch to the next segment.

• Online sharing of TM (translation memories) via email, LAN, FTP or P2P, makes Wordfast the ideal choice for running a team of translators, whether they are in the same room or on the other side of the world.

• Small footprint. Only 600 kb, instead of 55 Mb for Trados. It may sound of little importance (we all have HD space), until you realize it means that you can download any update in 5 minutes from the web site, or that if you are stuck in the middle of nowhere, and get an urgent request, you can still download Wordfast (demo) and work with it.
The demo is flexible enough to allow real production, providing you already know how to use Wordfast. It already happened quite a few times that a client contacts me on my mobile phone while I was out of town, with a rush file, and believe me, it does make a difference being able to just pop in the first Internet cafe and have your favorite tool up and running within 10 minutes.

• Linux and Mac. Trados won’t run, but Wordfast does. (This is a minor point for me, as I use Windows XP, but I had to mention it for those concerned.)

• Links to machine translation packages (most of them). I don’t use it personally but some find it useful.

There may be more features I forgot to mention. I do not pretend to be exhaustive here, but simply to explain why we use Wordfast and not Trados. [Back]

3. Workability

• Wordfast’s basics can be learned within 2 hours, following the tutorial on this web site.

Complete integration in Word. Yes, it is FULLY in Word, which means that all you already know about Word remains valid when using Wordfast.

• Most functions can be triggered by a shortcut. Wordfast is well behaved and does not monopolize shortcuts when it is not running.

• No dongle in Wordfast (Thanks god). No fear of loosing that thing, not dongle driver problems. With Trados, lose the dongle, and you have to buy the software again. If the dongle breaks, you have to send it to Trados to get a new one and wait about one or two weeks for shipment and handling. And that’s if everything goes fine! (You can’t work without it). Also, when you buy Wordfast, you don’t have to wait for shipment. You can start working right away.

• No obvious shortcuts missing. You can go back to the previous segment with a shortcut. Trados users have been begging for this function all the way since TWB 3, and it’s still not there. (4 or 5 lines of codes needed)

• Wordfast’s developer is usually available and very responsive. You have a problem, or you find a bug, you can contact the developer, it will get solved. FAST. You have an idea for a new feature, or there is a feature you need? If it makes sense, there are good chances it will be available for download in the next update, and once again, that’s FAST. Compare that to Trados’ very own automated reply (unless you have paid for an expensive support contract, and even then...). The point brought up just before says it all.

• Support is done mostly through a list of enthusiasts – developer included – and problems are usually solved fast. What that boils down to is that you can rely on your tool, and you can expect help when you have problems.

All the code of Wordfast is in VBA. Trados 6 still contains Word 6 routines that are less and less supported with each new version of Word.

• File formats are completely open in Wordfast, which means that you can reuse your work in any way you please, extract terminology or modify files exactly as you want, simply by opening them into any text editor.

• Wordfast remains compatible with every other version of Wordfast. Trados encrypts its TM to prevent compatibility with other tools or even with older versions of Trados. You can’t use TWB 5 to open a TWB 6 TM, and it’s not because of technical improvements, but a deliberate choice to encrypt the TMs, to force you to buy upgrades all the time. [Back]


These are the main reasons why I use Wordfast on every project I work on, and not Trados. In my opinion, although Trados is definitely more expensive and indeed a good tool, it does not match Wordfast in any of the criteria I am interested in


I hope you found this article interesting. If you have some time, I recommend you go through the various articles on this website.