As I’ve mentioned before, I run my translation business using free and open source software almost exclusively. I say “almost” because I have in the past run Microsoft Office and Wordfast using CrossOver Linux, a tool that allows you to run Windows software on Linux without a Windows license. In addition, although my primary computer is Linux-only (running Ubuntu Linux), I have a dual-boot laptop that can run Linux or Windows, and I sometimes use the Windows side when I’m splitting a highly formatted project with another translator, just to make sure that things like outline numbering are not disrupted by the conversion from OpenOffice to MS Word. Oddly enough, the only real incompatibility I’ve ever found between OpenOffice Writer and MS Word is highlighting; when I highlight text in OpenOffice, the person using Word often cannot remove the highlighting. Otherwise, Writer is essentially fully compatible with Word when it comes to creating or editing documents; just don’t try to run a macro-dependent program like Trados in OpenOffice!
My path to free and open source software use is definitely smoothed by the fact that my husband is a Unix systems administrator and has worked on free software development for 15+ years. However, there are a lot of resources available for people who want to learn more about using Linux and/or other flavors of free and open source software. Recently I found this page of free Linux books on various topics. “The Linux Starter Pack” looks very useful for beginners, and “Getting Started with OpenOffice.org” applies not only to Linux users, but to those who want to run OpenOffice on other operating systems.
Speaking of OpenOffice.org, Solveig Haugland, the author of the OpenOffice.org Guidebook (her website Get OpenOffice.org is also excellent!) writes a very helpful blog here. Most of her posts have screenshots to help you understand the concepts she covers, and they discuss very specific uses of OpenOffice.org, for example how to multiply two fields in OpenOffice Calc or use your Microsoft Word templates in OpenOffice Writer.
Many translators who would like to run Linux are concerned about what translation environment tool they will use when they make the switch from Windows. There are some good options already available; my favorite cross-platform tool is OmegaT, and I’ve also been happy with Heartsome other than some difficulties with very slow file conversion. With the advent of Wordfast Pro, the field is really opening up, since WF Pro is a Java-based tool that can run natively on Linux. I’ve installed WF Pro but I haven’t really learned to use it yet; but with Wordfast’s upcoming series of free 20-minute webinars, hopefully I’ll be using it soon and I’ll review it here!
The one tool that I could really use in a Linux environment and that doesn’t seem to exist is a really powerful OCR/PDF conversion tool such as Abbyy FineReader. There are a few Linux-friendly OCR tools out there and they work decently when the document plays well, for example with PDFs created from Word documents. However, I’ve found them basically unusable on PDFs created by scanning, faxing or photocopying a document, which applies to many of the PDFs I receive for translation.