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 »  Articles Overview  »  Technology  »  CAT Tools  »  ATA Presentation 2007: Free and Open Source Software for Translators

ATA Presentation 2007: Free and Open Source Software for Translators

By Dierk Seeburg | Published  12/26/2007 | CAT Tools | Recommendation:
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Dierk Seeburg
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Da Inglese a Tedesco translator
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ATA Presentation 2007: Free and Open Source Software for Translators

Dierk Seeburg

Abstract: Over the past several years, Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) such as Firefox, OmegaT, and the Linux operating system have become increasingly popular with translators. The reasons are obvious: FOSS is secure, functional and reliable and allows translators to work productively without worrying about high costs and licensing constraints. Here I discuss how you can get started using a full suite of FOSS programs and learn how to integrate FOSS tools based on open standards like XLIFF and XML into your current computing environment.

In the past, a select few people used to use FOSS, that is, the people writing it. It was simply convenient to write software that you needed. At present, people like me are using FOSS, researching alternative options for getting things done. It is convenient and free. In the future, people like you will use FOSS to get things done. FOSS is here to stay. You can use it, and you can help improve it. Get your feet wet and see a demo to learn how to get started.

This article is divided into six parts. The first part will answer the question what Free and Open Source Software or FOSS is all about. The second part answers the question where FOSS came from and what its roots are. The third part deals with the advantages and some caveats of Free and Open Source Software. The fourth part examines why FOSS is important and what impact it has on computing, technology, and society. In the fifth part we will look at some examples of FOSS, some general, and some translation-related. In the last part I will show you how you can get started using FOSS, where to get FOSS, and how to get more information on FOSS.

What is FOSS?

Now, let's first look at what the Free in Free and Open Source Software means.

1. Free (as in freedom): With FOSS, you are free to
run the software unrestricted for any purpose
study the source code
copy the software
modify the software
redistribute the software

Many people first mistake the free in FOSS for free as in beer instead of free to use as they choose. But then again, there is a tasty example of a Free and Open Source beer named Vores Øl (Danish for “Our Beer”) []. The beer's recipe and the whole brand of Vores Øl is published under a Creative Commons license, which basically means that anyone can use their recipe to brew the beer or to create a derivative of their recipe. I'll leave it up to you to decide, if this is Free and Open Source Software or Hardware:

FOSS is diametrically opposed to restricted software: With restricted software, you can only run it in certain environments, e.g., only on a client computer, but not on a server cannot inspect the source code, e.g., the software comes only in machine-readable format are restricted from copying the software, i.e., you may not make any copies of the software, sometimes not even for backups are restricted from making modifications to the software to fit your needs, i.e., even if part of the source code comes in human-readable programming code, you are not allowed to modify it in any way are restricted from redistributing the software, e.g., you are not allowed to pass it on for someone else to try

2. Open Source
The other part of FOSS is Open Source. Let's look at what Open Source means. Open source makes the source code publicly available
allows for interoperability provides universal access to the source code
is often based on open standards

There are a multitude of Open Source licenses, each with their own idiosyncracies, e.g., the GNU General Public License (GPL), the GNU Lesser Public License (LPGL), the Berkeley Software Distribution License (BSD), the Mozilla Public License (MPL), the MIT License (MITL), and the Apache Software Foundation License (ASFL), to name a few. The best known of these is probably the GPL of which version 3.0 was announced on June 29 of this year. While a major advancement for the Open Source movement, the announcement did not receive as much publicity as Apple's iPhone went on sale that same day. The equivalent of source code in digital content is the Creative Commons license under which this article is licensed.

In contrast, closed source code
is not publicly available
is often not interoperable
restricts access
may or may not be based on open standards
is individually licensed

As already mentioned, Open Source is often based on
Open Standards and
Open Formats

An open standard is a standard that is publicly available and has various rights for use associated with it. Open standards which specify formats are sometimes referred to as open formats. Here are some examples you may have come across:

the World Wide Web
the Global System for Mobile communications
Peripheral Component Interconnect
HyperText Markup Language
Portable Document Format
Open Document Format
Portable Network Graphic
OGG digital multimedia format
Translation Memory eXchange
Term Base eXchange

On the other hand, closed standards or formats include:

the ARPAnet
Code Division Multiple Access
NUBUS computer interface
Rich Text Format
Enhanced Metafile format
Microsoft document format
Bit Map graphics format
Moving Pictures Experts Group
Level 3 audio file
SDL Trados Tag Editor XML
Alchemy Catalyst translation toolkit

Where did FOSS come from?

Now let's look at how FOSS came about. Initially, the Free Software Foundation was founded in 1985 by Richard Stallman to support the GNU project, a software project to develop an open source, UNIX-like operating system. Since then, other organizations have joined to promote the FOSS movement. Among these are the Linux Foundation which arose form the Open Source Development Labs and the Free Standards Group, the Open Source Software Institute, and the Open Source Initiative which is the organization that published the Netscape source code on which many people's favorite web browser is based, Firefox.

Related to free and open source software is free and open source hardware (FOSH). Examples of FOSH are the open source car, a linux based phone, the replicating rapid prototyper, the open source mp3 player daisy, or open source cola.


Now let's have a closer look at the advantages and caveats of FOSS. FOSS is
Free: Everyone has the freedom to use it any way they choose.
Open: The source code is open and accessible for anyone.
Public: The source code is publicly available for inspection.
Safe: Open Source software has received the highest governmental security certification [RHEL v.5 obtains EAL 4: []
Unrestricted: You can use it for any purpose you like, no questions asked
No license management: Just include the respective license agreement when distributing.

Closed source software is
Costly: Aside from the initial purchasing cost, product upgrades and sometimes even updates require additional expenses.
Closed: As a customer, you are not allowed to access to inspect the source code.
Proprietary: The source code is not under the control of the end user of the software.
Restrictive: Use of the software is subject to restrictions for its use and/or modifications.
Requires license management: Users are required to abide by the terms and conditions of the license and document the use and deployment of the software.

Since FOSS is public and freely available there is no cost associated with it. This makes it very appealing not only to the individual user, but also to large and even very large organizations. Let's look at a cost comparison of two computer systems loaded with an operating system and some standard software packages for office work, image manipulation, financial management, and an integrated translation environment (ITE):

Linux-based PC:

Windows-based PC:

Linux: US$0

Microsoft Windows: US$199

OpenOffice: US$0

Microsoft Office: US$299


Adobe Photoshop: US$599

GNUcash: US$0

Quicken: US$59

OmegaT: US$0

SDL Trados: US$995

Total: US$0

Total: US$2151

(License peace of mind: priceless)

In this example, using FOSS can save you over US$2100 US-Dollars. This does not include costs for future upgrades and updates.

Closed source software is closed, i.e., not open for review. Examples of some software in wide use include software used to operate
electronic voting machines
medical equipment

It is designed to remain part of a corporation's proprietary assets. Proprietary software is restricted. You cannot use it for any purpose you like, restrictions are placed on usage and conditions are imposed on location and environment.

FOSS is not without issues, either. Currently, it is more difficult to generate revenue with FOSS. More and more and alternative business models are developing to generate revenue usually in some service-oriented way. There is often no single corporation that manages and/or coordinates software development. This can make it difficult for contributors to stay focused and on schedule for new releases.

Since historically FOSS was developed by developers for developers more emphasis was placed on functionality than on ease of use or user interface. This may still hold true for many FOSS packages, but not for others, for example, the Firefox web browser is a good example of a FOSS package that is easy to install and easy to use.

Since proprietary software packages often do not use open standards it is difficult to reverse engineer file formats in order to offer completely compatible file imports and exports. Another example of this are macros or other proprietary languages used as part of a proprietary file format.

Depending on user demand there may be more or less formal support and/or training available for purchase.

Why is FOSS important?

On to the next topic in today's presentation: Why is FOSS important?
No single vendor control or lock-in
No risk of being “orphaned”
Often runs on older/slower hardware
Efficient knowledge/resource sharing through collaboration
Software is available in more languages
No intellectual property restrictions (per the Software Freedom Law Center [SFLC])
Available for different platforms, operating systems

FOSS can alleviate some major problems associated with proprietary software one of which is the dependence on a software vendor's decision regarding pricing, licensing, support, etc. With FOSS you are no longer locked into a vendor's decisions or risk being orphaned in case the vendor decides to abandon development.



Now we are going to explore some FOSS you may already be using in your daily computing environment.

The first example we're going to look at is the Linux operating system, recognized by its mascot, the penguin:

Linux is based on the GNU project; in case you're wondering, GNU is a recursive acronym and stands for GNU Not Unix. Linux got its name from its creator, Linus Torvalds, who created Linux while attending the University of Helsinki in Finland. Its strengths are interoperability, portability, and a great community of developers. As a result, the Linux operating system is installed in about 75 percent of the top 500 supercomputers, 16 percent of smart phones, 25 percent of servers, and 2.8 percent of desktops. The world's largest search engine company Google is probably also the world's largest Linux installation.

Linux comes in many varieties and runs by names like Suse, Fedora, Ubuntu and many others. For information on the various Linux distributions see [], [] where you can find information and ratings on the popular Debian, Knoppix which can be booted off a CD, SuSE, Mandriva, Damn Small Linux for bootable installations with limited install space of only 50MB, Linspire, formerly known as Lindows until forced to change its name after some legal wranglings, and Ubuntu, dubbed the “Linux for Human Beings”.

Our next example is the popular web browser Firefox, developed under the auspices of the Mozilla Foundation. You have probably encountered its logo somewhere surfing the web.

Firefox is the second most popular web browser after Internet Explorer. It is extendable, cross-platform compatible and runs on Windows, the Mac, and Linux. It has been downloaded 300 million times and its market share as of this writing stands at about 15 percent.

The web server that makes web browsing possible in 60 percent of all cases is the Apache web server, an open source project by the Apache Software Foundation. This popular web server runs on Windows, Mac and Linux and enjoys a market share of 60 percent. Thanks to among other things its extendability it has been the market leading web server since 1996).

Besides the web browser, the program or rather program suite people use most is probably an office suite with word processing, spreadsheet, and maybe a simple drawing or database program. In the FOSS space, this functionality is covered well by the office suite. has been downloaded 62.5 million times and is available for Windows, Mac and Linux. The suite includes
Writer, a wordprocessing program
Calc, a spreadsheet program
Impress, a presentation program
Draw, a drawing program
Base, a database program

Through efforts by the translator community it has been made available in more than 45 localizations and boasts more than 95 percent compatibility with Microsoft Office other than for macros.

For those cases where the program you want to run is available only for Windows you can run an emulation program which emulates the operating system layer, but runs under an operating system different from the one it emulates. One such example is WINE. Its name is a recursive acronym for WINE Is Not an Emulator, and it runs on Mac, Linux, Solaris.

This emulator allows for running Windows programs without Windows. For example, you can run Microsoft Excel under WINE which runs under Ubuntu Linux.

If you're looking for an open source program to handle your finances you need to look no further than GnuCash. This double-entry book-keeping personal finance system can import Quicken files and runs on Windows, Mac and Linux.

If you are looking for a powerful open source graphics editor that runs on Windows, Mac and Linux you will find that GIMP fulfills all your needs and more. GIMP can import and export Photoshop files as well as many others. It features layers, channels, paths, transparency and many other features fit for professional use.

If you have a need for an open source desktop publishing solution that lets you create fliers and brochures and runs on Windows, Mac and Linux then Scribus can fill this need. Its features range from professional CMYK and ICC color management to compatibility with major graphics formats. It can even import text from ODF, RTF, DOC and HTML documents.

The most popular open source solution for translation is OmegaT. This capable program runs on Windows, Mac and Linux. It can do fuzzy matching, match propagation, allows for simultaneous use of multiple translation memories, external glossaries, and can be used with non-Latin alphabets. Furthermore, OmegaT can handle source and target languages with different character sets and is compatible with TMs from market leading integrated translation environments. In addition, one of its great strengths is its active online user community.

Released under a FOSS license by Enlaso in October, 2005, the Okapi Framework provides an environment to build inter-operable tools for the different steps of the translation and localization process. Developed mostly for developers it comprises functions such as translation memory creation, a management interface and an XLIFF converter.

Another entry in the category of translation tools is ForeignDesk. This application was the in-house translation tool in use by what is now the largest translation services firm in the world, LionBridge, until they released it to the public under a BSD FOSS license in 2002. It runs under Windows and can make use of customized XML filters. One of its strengths is the display of fuzzy matches which are displayed instantaneously.

One of the entries in the category of XLIFF-compatible translation tools for Windows, Mac and Linux is Transolution. This translation tools suite is modular and offers added flexibility by providing an XLIFF Editor, a translation memory engine and filters to convert different formats to and from XLIFF. The use of XLIFF means that almost any content can be localized as long as there is a filter for it. Currently, it can handle XML, SGML, PO, RTF, ODF, HTML and DocBook.

The second contender in the XLIFF category are the Open Language Tools by Sun Microsystems which can run on Windows, Mac and Linux. The included set of XLIFF file-filters comprises filters for a number of documentation and software file formats, including HTML/XHTML, XML, DocBook SGML, ASCII, ODF, .po (gettext), .properties, .java (ResourceBundle), .msg/.tmsg (catgets).


The last entry in the category of computer-assisted translation tools is Pootle. Pootle is an acronym for PO-based Online Translation / Localization Engine. Pootle runs on Windows, Mac, Linux and some of its features include translation memory, glossary management and matching, goal creation and user management. It allows online translation with the assignment of work to various translators and can operate as a management system where translators translate using an offline tool and use Pootle to manage the workflow of the translation.

The only entry in the category of open source machine translation tools is Apertium. It runs on Windows, Mac and Linux. Among the goals of the project are spreading the use of the language, increasing literacy, contributing to standardization, and increasing visibility.

Mikel L. Forcada, "Open-source machine translation: an opportunity for minor languages", in Strategies for developing machine translation for minority languages (5th SALTMIL workshop on Minority Languages) (organized in conjunction with LREC 2006 (22-28.05.2006))


If you are looking for an open source program to fill your needs chances are you will find a solution. Here are a few more steps to get you going:
1)Start using FOSS by trying out one of the above mentioned applications.
2)Get OpenOffice [].
3)Check out the translation tools on Martin Wunderlich's page at [].
4)Sign up for the Open Source Update at [].
5) Use Linux for Translators [].
6)Subscribe to The Tool Kit for translators: [].
7)Have a look at Hands on Open Source at [].
8)Subscribe to TUX magazine:>].

1.Sam Hiser, “Achieving Openness”, []
2.Japan Becomes First Asian Nation To Embrace Open Software Standards, []
3.Open Source Barometer, []

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