OmegaT, a review
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I have long been curious about OmegaT, mostly
for 2 reasons:
- OmegaT is the last free CAT on the market
still being developped (that I know of)
- OmegaT is written in Java, and therefore
relatively platform independent.
“Platform independent”, yes, but to run it,
you need Java J2RE. In Windows that means
you need to download it and install it, which
will take some time. It also needs OpenOffice.org
to handle the most usual files (word, xls,...)
and that's a heck of a download, but still,
once installed, it will work on Linux, Mac
and Windows, and any other OS that runs Java's
Anyway, as I said, I got curious, so taking
advantage of the fast connection I was on,
I downloaded the whole thing, and installed
Java, OOo and of course OmegaT. Then I proceeded
right away with the manual, and my first translation
in OmegaT. I do not pretend to be an expert
of OmegaT, but I still had an opportunity
to experience it first hand (about 10,000
words with it so far), and some knowledge
of several other CATs (Wordfast, Trados, Transit,
Translator studio, ...) provides me with a
This review will be rather straightforward
and organized as follows:
Assuming you already have Java J2RE and
OpenOffice.org installed, installing OmegaT
itself is a breeze. You just unzip it
in a folder, and that's it. However, installing
Java and OOo will be a bit more demanding,
and you have to download 'em too, probably
one of the reasons why few people currently
On Linux, installation/running is a tad
more difficult -requires writing a small
shell file- but, hey, what's new? (The
explanation on the manual is nearly good
enough for a newbie to figure it out with
When you run OmegaT, it shows up in 2
separate windows, one for the translation,
the other one for matches and glossary.
First, you have to create a project, which
is pretty easy. Click on “Files/Create
New project”, select the folders (the
default folders will be best usually).
Then, you have to copy your source files
in the source folder of the project using
your file explorer. If you have TMs (in
TMX 1 format), copy them in the TM folder.
Same procedure for glossaries (in tab
delimited format). Once this is done,
you are ready to start the translation:
Go to File/Open, and select the project
file (which has been created for you in
the root folder of the project).
Your file will appear in the main window.
Press Enter to start the translation.
When you are done with the segment, just
press Enter. To return to the previous
segment, press Ctrl+P. You simply press
Enter to move on. Real easy.
OmegaT handles text files, HTML files
and any file that can be opened in OpenOffice.org.
That includes RTF, and most importantly
Word/Excel documents, thanks to a series
of powerful filters. However, filters
are not the real thing and some intricate
formatting could be messed up. Still,
it remains OK for the very large majority
of the jobs.
This is one of the most important differences
between OmegaT and other CATs. OmegaT
will use paragraphs as segments
– instead of sentences. I will discuss
the advantages and downsides of this approach
Changing from one segment to the next
is near instant, at least on average files.
(Haven't tried anything longer then a
few thousand words).
According to the manual however, OmegaT
does get much slower when several large
files (containing many segments) are added
to the “source folder”. The work around
is however not too difficult. See the
ASAD manual for more data if you come
across this problem
I have experienced no noticeable slow
down with 5000 words, which is a fair
size for an individual file.
This is very interesting for literary,
marketing and legal documents. Indeed,
to produce a good translation on a marketing
document, it is often necessary to read
a full paragraph and rephrase it, rather
then going sentence by sentence. Not all
documents can be translated sentence by
sentence, and this approach may result
in a poor translation. Each sentence may
have been translated correctly, but the
style is lost. It doesn't flow. On a marketing
document, translation often requires one
to rephrase a whole paragraph and combine
Can be gotten to run on any platform...BUT
it requires Java J2RE, which is seldom
present on Windows machines, and to do
any real work, OOo is a must – free too,
but 60 some Mb to download.
Simplicity of operation
Once you have learned to press Enter
to change segment, and Ctrl+P to go back
to the previous one, that's it. There
are nearly no bells and whistle, and nothing
to distract your attention, so you simply
focus on the translation.
A nice thing to note (especially for website
localization) is that OmegaT preserves
the structure, including nested subdirectories
and all non translatable files, in the
final output. This makes it a tool of
choice for website translation. (The OmegaT
tags however need to be learned to do
a good job, because you can't see the
The search function of OmegaT is quite
nice, with support for a couple wildcards,
* and ?. You can search the TM as well,
and you can also use a keyword search
(a bit like an internet search engine:
search for “game” and “bob”, and it will
bring up all segments which contain those
Double-click on the segment you are interested
in and you will be brought to the segment
Preview is not the right term, but that's
close enough. You can compile the files
at any time during the translation, and
it is reasonably fast. This means you
can always see were you stand in the final
file, a most accurate preview. This is
very useful when working with HTML files,
as you can see what it looks like, and
what goes where.
What's cheaper then free?
Open source means that you can access
the source (Duh!) so if you are
able to program in Java, you can customize
it as you like/need, and integrate it
with other java programs. While this is
clearly not for the average user, it could
prove useful later. If you spend your
days on a computer, soon or later, you
will dig a bit of programming, and when
you do, Open Source is a dream come true.
4. Conclusion / Opinion
The glossary function is very clumsy.
You have to add terms by opening the glossary
in a text editor. OmegaT needs to be restarted
if you want it to recognize new terms
from the glossaries, and when it recognizes
them, you still have to type the translation
You have two windows standing side by
side, and they just don't integrate. The
GUI looks poor and that's a bit of a distraction.
Font settings are skimpy.
It also means that there are much less
matches than with a regular CAT. For instance,
the following paragraph:
“Go to the File menu, and select Save
As. Enter a name for your file. Select
a format and click on Save. ...”.
With a typical CAT, these 3 sentences
could be recognized and translated automatically.
With OmegaT, the whole paragraph has to
match, and it seldom does. As a result,
TM brings much less matches then on regular
Another downside of paragraph segmentation
is that there is no real compatibility
with other CAT products. You have TMX
1.1 TMs, but they bring no matches when
used on other CATs. However, the search
function can ease the problem a bit, as
you can query the TM directly.
Search function issues
The segment number given is wrong (as
per my trial).
The search window remains in focus after
you double click on a result, so you may
not see the segment and it feels like
Once you got to the segment you searched,
there is no easy way to get back to the
segment you were previously working on.
“Simple” features like spellchecking require
major tweaking to install. You can tweak
and tweak and even reprogram the whole
thing -it's GNU- but obviously most users
are not computer litterate enough to do
so, so the have to do without, for now.
You can see where the tags are and move
them quite easily, but you don't know
what they are. That means you have
to keep a copy of the document open to
check what the tags are. That said, OmegaT
can compile the files at any time, so
you can easily get a preview.
Because it handles the translation in
a simple text editor, OmegaT turns simple
word/rtf files into tagged documents,
so you need to know how to handle tagged
files, and you need to check the tags
integrity, even for simple *.rtf files.
Further, if you want to add formatting,
you will have to do it outside (in OOo
for instance), because it can't be done
Lack of support for other
Apart from a serious amount of tweaking,
you can not use OmegaT for Wordfast/Trados
files. Since OmegaT is in a minority position
on the market, compatibility is important.
A translator doesn't translate alone,
but integrates within a team, (be it his
own team or that of his customer) and
must therefore be able to exchange easily
his work files with others. That said,
if you are ready for the tweaking, it
can be done, but not within OmegaT itself.
On OmegaT, the TM offers very few good matches
and OmegaT unfortunately lacks the tools to
compensate for that. It can not be configured
to meet specific needs, and the glossary function
is poor. To develop into a mainstream tool,
OmegaT will have to implement better glossary
functions, develop subsegment matching and
create other functions to compensate for the
lack of matches. There is room for improvement
in the appearance of the program. OmegaT should
also have a simple routine to work on Trados
segmented files and produce them if needed.
However, having OmegaT is a nice complement
to your range of translation tools, because
thanks to its pesky paragraph segmentation,
it is possible to handle properly marketing
documents. Target and source language can
widely differ in their ways to express ideas,
and some documents just can't be translated
sentence by sentence. When this is the case,
other CATs are less effective, and OmegaT
is a good alternative. It's also quite fast
and does not distract you from your work.
I just hope it will develop more of the features
we expect from professional CATs.
If you don't have a CAT yet, you may as well
start with this one, and if you have one,
you may still need occasionally an easy way
to deal with long-winded, verbose-addicted
writers, OmegaT's main edge.
home page gives you links to the download
site and documentation in a no-nonsense fashion.
*See the article “CAT,
beware of the beast” in the knowledge base.