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The Ionic Column (in exile)
by David Parry

Englishman David Parry lived, worked and played in Tokyo from 1980 to 1994 and was a member of TPC from 1986. He was Newsletter Publisher from late 1988 to early 1990 and began the Ionic Column in 1992. This column even won a prize and an honorable mention back in 1992. Currently based in Dusseldorf and working as a translator, he returns to Japan electronically via the Internet.

The Ionic Column this month continues with the words of wisdom from fellow-translator Marc Prior. I decided against a continuation of the Linux saga that I started earlier after Marc revised some of his comments to me in the light of new experience. Not dramatically, but he does not as yet have a definitive answer that is ready for publication. So I'll jump to some of the other topics that Marc and I discussed, including fonts and file formats
Off to war

First, I start the exchanges with a reference to the "word processor wars" of yore. For many years I used XyWrite, a very fast and highly configurable DOS program with great editing facilities and rather limited formatting capabilities. At that time the favorite among business users and many translators was Word Perfect, which I used occasionally when working on a borrowed system. By 1992 I was forced to started using Word for Windows 2.0 on an occasional basis when I got files for overwriting from translation customers. The last year that I used XyWrite to any extent was in 1996, by which time I was using Word for Windows 6.0, since the majority of files for my work now came in that format.

I used Word Perfect for Windows under Windows 3.1 to the order of a specific customer, and around that time I had problems with an unstable PC that had hardware problems, but while WinWord was occasionally unstable, I had repeated crashes with Word Perfect for Windows on the same system. The agency that I worked for lost the customer, and since then I have not had any requests for that specific format.

I'll say it again here; there is nothing wrong with Word Perfect for Windows, it offers functions that WinWord does not, and its conversion filters are from all account better than the ones provided by Microsoft. But I feel no great need to buy and learn a new program, since the interface has some small differences, and it does not work with Trados. That alone more than outweighs the big advantage of Word Perfect for Windows, which can search and replace across several files at the same time. This was a feature that I dearly wanted, but macros programs such as WordFast and Trados (yes, Trados is basically a collection of WinWord macros) do the same and better.

The only alternative to either Word Perfect for Windows or a TM program such as Trados was a specialized editing program. The Unix world probably has a number of such programs, and I have DOS versions (from 1986) of the Unix programs sed and grep, which can perform wonders. But only on ASCII files. I found around three or four such programs when searching through the shareware collections, but all of them work with RTF (Rich Text Format) files and not natively with the WinWord DOC format.

RTF has problems of its own when dealing with formatted text, and searches and replacements are missed if the text in question has formatting such as bolding or a font change associated with it. Also, not all the formatting is necessarily retained when converting a file from DOC to RTF and back, as Trados does, and various unwanted changes can take place. I'll skip the details unless somebody really, really wants them.

And now to being with the exchanges:
DP> Which is the point I had to make on TPC to some rabid supporters of Linux and Word Perfect. Better things exist, but I am stuck with what my customers use. If I had a free choice, I would still be producing ASCII text with XyWrite - and it runs as fast as WinWord, even on a 386. It wasn't slow on a 286!

Marc>I know the kind of supporters you mean, and I have a lot of sympathy with your opinion on this. It's simply not an option for translators to deliver in plain text format, and translators who deliver in RTF format only are at best putting themselves at a disadvantage. Many Linux advocates are simply too far removed from commercial realities to appreciate this.

However, I draw a distinction between applications and formats. Whilst I accept, up to a point, that my customers are entitled to expect delivery in a certain format, I don't accept that they should dictate what tools (apps) I use. With that in mind, I believe that has substantially moved the goalposts. The conversion filters really are excellent. OK; they're not perfect. But in my opinion, they're now more than close enough. The reason is that even when I used Windows and MS Office, I never achieved perfect format retention. There are several reasons for this.

One, I still use MS Office 97. So do a lot of people, and I fail to see why we must all buy the latest version of Word/Office when it hits the shelves in order to stay in step with the latest file format.

Comment by DP: I too use MS Office 97 and see no reason to change. My customers continue to send me files in that format, so I can ignore the tugging at my wallet from Redmond.

Two, I used Trados for many years. That involves conversion to RTF and back, and my experience is that the formatting penalty is in the same order of magnitude as that entailed by conversion between MS Office and Not only that, but my version of Trados (1.1, which I never upgraded) only supported Word 6, so even more formatting information was lost. Many translation memory apps, in fact, involve some form of conversion into a native format and back.

Comment by DP: Coincidentally, a German forum for translators that I subscribe to (U-Forum, which also numbers at least three Tokyoites among its contributors) ran a debate on the pros and cons of Trados as I was writing this article. The same issue of small but sometimes significant formatting changes came up. And also the issue that the segmentation of the text into chunks produces a somewhat "wooden" textual style, especially when coping with the different word order in German.

Three, over the years I've frequently received large documents with embedded graphics produced in all manner of third-party plug-ins. (The "Word cannot edit the -" syndrome.) On occasions, I've considered buying some of them - not out of necessity, but purely to improve my image. I never did, though, and no customer has ever complained about the legends I send back.

DP>I had noticed that some WinWord files changed in appearance after running through Trados.
That is as good an approach as any. I have tried to acquire the programs to edit these embedded files, but usually I am one or two versions behind. There are just too many graphics programs out there, and there is the problem of keeping them up to date

Marc>You see that you take a pragmatic approach here. Perfect file format support is nice, but you are ultimately willing to make some concessions - either because the cost isn't warranted, or because other benefits (notably the use of translation memory) outweigh. On the cost issue, MS products are undoubtedly grossly overpriced, but I'd be the first to say that that in itself doesn't justify abandoning them. They're still affordable for translators. Rather, it's my belief that tying ourselves to their formats hinders progress. That argument is much harder to quantify, but I hold it to be true nonetheless.

DP>Another issue is DTP.

Marc>That, I grant you, is an issue. Another case is translators who localize GUIs of Windows apps and need to see how they run. This may apply to many people in absolute terms, but they still represent a small proportion of the profession. By the same token, some translators do actually have to have a Mac.

DP>I occasionally translate PageMaker files, which may have come from a Mac, and FrameMaker files. The latter exists in a Unix version, but I think that it only runs under SCO and the like, not Linux.

Marc>That's correct. A beta version of FrameMaker was in fact available for a time, but it was withdrawn.

I suspect that the future trend will be for these formats to be exported in an open-tag format for which far better editors are available on Linux than on Windows. But at the moment, I agree that you (personally) need Windows.

More on file formats and related topics next month.

© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

January , 2003

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor

Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN