Thursday, September 2, 2010

The End of the Affair: Wordfast Pro is the New Coke of the Translation Software Sector

Time to return to the tried and true Classic version of a beloved product?
OK, two more projects with Wordfast Pro and I am even closer to throwing in the towel. It is not an easy step to take, because I had been a fan of the tool ever since it came out in the early naughties. Back then, it generated a lot of buzz by providing very similar capabilities to Trados for free. Later on, it started to charge for licenses, but they were still far cheaper than the hundreds charged by Trados for a tool that, frankly, semed stuck in the 1990s.

Part of the attraction (for me) of the scrappy underdog that WF was back then was how cheap and flimsy it looked. It amazed me that what looked basically like a glorified MS Word macro could kick the pants off a behemoth like Trados. It was a garage-band CAT tool. It looked like a grad student project. But that was its charm. At a fraction of the price, it offered virtually the same functionality as Trados. It was even better in some respects. Yes, we don't travel around in jetpacks, but the very least you could ask of a translation program is to have the capacity to jump back from your current segment to the previous one. This was too much to ask of the industry leader. But Wordfast could do it. And I loved it.

It was the tortoise to the hare. Less sleek and shiny but more versatile. And less obviously mercantile. No pushy sales force. If you peeked under the hood at the capabilities in the Pandora's Box, you could find a function for seemingly any requirement, no matter how esoteric. Did you want to identify words in all caps as term candidates? Or as placeables? Or words with caps in the middle of the word? Did you want to specify a hierarchy of precedence in the automatic propagation of terms during a pre-translation? Different colors for different glossaries? How many glossaries do you want to use?

Also, the interface for editing your TM was a dream. I never really understood the process under Trados WB. And everything was done without ever leaving the comfortable and familiar environment of MS Word, which is a plus for the uninitiated.

It was, to put it briefly, friendly. You could learn the basic functionality in a few minutes. And if you wanted more sophisticated functions, you simply read the manual. (Did I mention the manual? It was written in relatively plain language. Not like other tools, which seem to be purposefully obscure in order to get you to pay for additional training.) The reassuring lime green and black buttons on your screen were a delight: you had bought a better tool for a small part of the competitor's cost. Trados fanatics insisted that the tools were very different. Bull paddies. I handed in projects several times using Wordfast tags  for use in Trados and it was absolutely not a problem. Documents produced under one tool were easily processed by its twin. You could clean a Trados-tagged doc using WF and a WF-tagged doc in Trados WB.

So I looked with some trepidation at the abandonment by WF of its cozy MS Word ecosystem in favor of a stand-alone environment. But I decided to give it a shot anyway. At first glance, it was obvious that a lot of the nifty little Pandora tricks had disappeared under the new makeover. Not a problem, I thought. The developers will surely add little gadgets and doo-dads as time passes.

However, the experience of using WF Pro for everyday work is simply disappointing. The major drawbacks are as follows, jotted down during the course of today's work session:

1.- The Shift+Ctrl+left or right arrow that allows you to select entire words for deletion or copying as you write has been eliminated. As I have used this for writing since the Clinton administration, this forces me to re-learn the skill of typing. Yes, it's basically kindergarten time for me. Which undoubtedly slows down my productivity.  Not good for a productivity tool.

2.- The tool is slow. This is the main drawback. You can literally see the program groaning under the weight of its own lack of efficiency as you wait for it to unfreeze and resume the session. Before a pencil-necked you-know-what asks whether I am using an old machine, here are my specs: 2.2GHz Intel Core2 Duo Processor/ 4 GB DDR2 RAM / 320GB SATA Hard Drive. So there. I think that should be enough to keep the program from working like a 1950s mainframe. If you try to jump around with the mouse from one segment to another further back or further ahead, WF Pro tends to freeze up and go into a deep meditative mode with a dismaying frequency. In fact, I've been writing this blog post during the frequent Zen breaks that the tool has been forcing upon me. So, thank you, Wordfast! My inner life is becoming richer thanks to your frequent pauses.

3.- By the way, what the h*#%& did the designers do with the shortcut for the euro sign?

4.- In WF Classic, if you had different options in your TM for the segment you're translating, you could toggle between the different candidates in case the higher-rated candidate was inappropriate for whatever reason. That capability in WF Pro? Gone with the wind. Or, if it exists, it is sufficiently buried within the tool's documentation that it requires me to slow down my rate of work even further.

5.- Then this little bug: the tool refuses to provide options from the TM you know are there and spits out this message at times: "Failed to leverage segment. The following error occur: Main ENG-SPA WfMemory Nov 2008.txt: Failed to leverage segment. unknown Wordfast  escape." (This I was actually able to fix after googling it and finding a WF support page: It required opening up the TM using Notepad, locating the offending unit and deleting it.)

6.- There was one Java-related crash. I lost 30-45 minutes of work. The work simply wasn't in the TM after the program recovered from the crash. Trados may have had a lot of drawbacks, but you never lost any work no matter how badly or frequently Workbench crashed. This is truly the last straw. I am truly flabbergasted at how poor this tool is. I really find it hard to believe that real people actually tested this software and came to the decision that it was even close to ready for release. (I now realize that this crash was triggered by the "Find/Replace" function, which is clunky as heck).

Ok, my rant is over. Looking back, thrashing a program you used to love is not comfortable. Maybe I overdid it. To quote Opus Penguin during a brief stint as movie critic for the Bloom Picayune after lambasting a movie and feeling a tinge of regret: "  Well, maybe it wasn't that bad, but, Lord, it wasn't good."  I think the time has come to dust off the old Classic version or find greener pastures.



Anonymous said...

You wrote this post ages ago, but I just bought Wordfast Pro last week after having too many segments for the free version. What a nightmare! The previous version was so easy to learn. This has been a disaster, forcing me to buy videos etc. to figure the dang thing out. So far, I am $300 in for this program and terribly disappointed.

Financial Translator said...

Sorry to hear about your troubles. I myself have since moved on to greener pastures, as I indicated in the blog post. Most of my work is now done through Trados 2009. However, I bought the version without the phrase extraction option, so I'm now being tempted by MemoQ.

On curious tidbit of information: the rumor is that Wordfast was purchased by Transperfect, a mega translation agency with kind of a bad reputation. That might be one reason why WF Pro is so disappointing.