Since I launched my freelance business in 2002, I have used free and open source software almost exclusively. This model has worked very well for me, and I think that it’s enabled me to work better, faster and more affordably than if I had used the proprietary software equivalents. There are some not so lofty reasons for this: first, cheap is my favorite price, and free is even better, so the tightwad in me really, really likes the idea of low-cost and reliable computing. Second, when I married my tech support (a Unix administrator and free software evangelist) I vowed to love, honor and cherish my husband and forsake the products of a certain software company in the Pacific Northwest if I wanted to continue to get free 24×7 in-house computer help.
For freelance translators, free and open source software works really well for some tasks and fails dismally at others. I find OpenOffice.org to be a far more pleasant word processor than its proprietary equivalents, but no amount of work will make translation environment tools that run from within Microsoft Word (i.e. SDL Trados, Wordfast) work in OpenOffice.org. The incompatibility of Word macros and OpenOffice macros is just too great. However, in 5+ years of freelancing, I’ve never had a client notice than any of my regular “Word” documents were created and/or edited in OpenOffice.org, thanks to OpenOffice’s “Save as…” capabilities. So, it’s a matter of checking out the tools that your particular freelance business requires. I’ve been very happy with:
- Kubuntu Linux Linux distributions are the source of many a “chunky versus creamy peanut butter” debate, but in my office we’ve been quite happy with the release cycle and ease of installation of Kubuntu.
- OpenOffice.org office suite. This is probably my most-used piece of free software. It runs on Linux, Mac and Windows (that’s alphabetical, btw) and is extremely, extremely compatible with the market leader word processors, including if you need to create and/or edit documents in Microsoft Word format. The suite includes a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation program, database and drawing program.
- Heartsome translation memory software. To be honest, Heartsome is actually proprietary; the source code to the software itself is not public. However, it’s currently the only commercially supported translation environment tool that both runs natively on Linux (as well as Mac and Windows) and natively supports OpenOffice.org file formats. Heartsome is also extremely affordable by the standards of current translation environment tools.
- OmegaT translation memory software. OmegaT is a community-developed free and open source translation environment tool. The online user community is very active, and it’s developed by translators, for translators.
- Evince document viewer. Maybe this is just my issue, but with other document viewers, I often only see the first page of .tiff files, which is the format that many electronic faxes seem to come in. Evince completely solved this.
- KMail e-mail client. Here is what I love about this e-mail program: when you type an e-mail that contains a word similar to “attachment,” i.e. “attached,” “attaching,” “attachment,” but you don’t attach a file, KMail pops up a polite little dialog box that says “The message you have composed seems to refer to an attachment, but you have not attached anything. Do you want to attach a file to your message?” I can’t count the dozens of times this feature has saved me from the “Sorry, here’s the attachment” doubletake that I often receive from other people.
In the spirit of disclosure, I do also keep Microsoft Office XP on my computer for word count purposes, and since I don’t have a Windows computer, I run it using Crossover Linux. I’ve been considering testing a dedicated word count tool on Linux, but in the absence of that, I still use Word’s word count so that my statistics match my clients’ as closely as possible.