For more than ten years, Alchemy CATALYST has remained a successful and powerful localization tool for software and software documentation. From the early days, CATALYST focused on linguistic and layout quality using a visual approach.
Alchemy Software Development Limited was founded in Dublin, Ireland, by Enda McDonnell and Tony O’Dowd, the original developers and designers of its predecessor Corel CATALYST, in November 2000. CATALYST’s success allowed the small company to open new offices in the United States, Japan, Germany and China. In March 2008, Alchemy Software Development Limited was acquired by TransPerfect, joining the TransPerfect family of companies, and under the direction of McDonnell, CATALYST continues to be one of the leading software localization tools with an ever-growing customer base.
Translators, engineers and project managers use CATALYST’s main interface to localize, test and engineer content with five main windows of the user interface. These can be adjusted to any workflow task and personal preference (Figure 1). In its standard configuration, the Project Navigator on the left displays all files in a CATALYST project file in a hierarchical tree view. The extension TTK is standard for all CATALYST projects and stands for Translation Tool Kit. The filter selection below the tree view allows you to display only strings that need your attention, such as strings that were machine translated. The center piece of the interface is the Project Workspace, which you can set up to display the content of each item in your Project Navigator either as (text) strings, visual or a combination. Immediately below is the Translator Toolbar — the linguist’s control room. It consists of a two-field grid showing source and target strings for translation and the Reference Pane just below and to the right. This nifty companion displays translation memory (TM), machine translation (MT), glossary (terminology) and other reference matches as well as the properties (such as width and height) for the selected segment. The Project Results bar to the right of the Project Workspace sends constant messages to the user about operations such as Leverage, Search and To-do items. Results bar entries are live, meaning you can go to the location of any reported item in your project file by simply double-clicking on it.
Arranged to the top and sides of the Project Workspace, you can display several Toolbars, which provide fast, icon-based access to important and frequently used functions and quick access to launching Alchemy CATALYST Experts that automate project analysis, translation, validation and tasks. This well thought out interface streamlines all tasks involved in the localization workflow, from project preparation to delivery.
Alchemy CATALYST since version 7
Version 8 enhanced the preparation of software localization projects by improving the Analysis Expert assessing the statistics of a project and including a new Thumbnail Pane for simpler navigation using small images of user content. The actual translation process was supported by the implementation of MT results that needed to be post-edited before they were accepted as target strings. Further improvements resulted from supporting virtually all TMs by means of TMX, and a Language Consistency Checker ensuring that the translation of reoccurring strings is consistent. Translators who also adjust (engineer) the user interface likely appreciated the new Layout Manager Expert that automatically adjusts dialogs to accommodate longer or shorter strings in the target language by resizing and repositioning boxes and buttons. The Layout Manager is a significant innovation that has not been matched elsewhere in the industry. For localization engineers, there was the option to lock important key words or parts of source strings to avoid unintended alteration by the assigned translators. Testing and quality management were enhanced by the option to automatically run validation checks while translating strings instead of doing this at the very end of translations.
Project preparation in CATALYST 9 was boosted by a new Clean Up Expert to create target files and to create or update TMs to include your latest translations. Also added was CATALYST’s own new TM format (.TM) that is based on the industry standard XLIFF and is by design multilingual. Translating linguists were supported by two key features of the release: Translation Re-cycle and ezType Technology. Translation Re-cycle scans the project for already translated segments, and displays matches with concordance levels ensuring no segment has to be translated more than once. ezType Technology, on the other hand, enhances productivity by suggesting words found in the source, target or attached terminology sources, while the translator types.
Software engineers probably appreciated the introduction of Swap Languages to switch the original and target languages in a project. This is a simple function that many other tools neglect. It allows developers to base their translation on a target language that might be easier and cheaper to localize into additional languages. The other major innovation for engineers is the display of size restrictions on target strings by drawing red boxes in the translation window if width or height extends the maximum size, or if character length in a defined font size is exceeded.
Version 9 significantly enhanced the automation of project management using the Scheduler, which places language projects in a defined folder structure meaning tasks such as Leverage and Validation can be automatically performed on all languages with a single operation.
What is new in version 10
Project preparation is further assisted by implementing fully automated MT to populate target strings that are clearly identified to quality managers by being stamped as coming from MT. The segments can then be edited, and the stamp is subsequently changed to “For Review.” CATALYST 10’s second major project preparation improvement is the new Terminology Harvest Expert, which generates terminology databases in the open standard TBX or CSV format by analyzing CATALYST projects using a combination of statistical methods, content examination and optional manual override thus identifying term candidates. “Minor” innovations are the new Project Division Expert, which streamlines and foolproofs distributed localization effort and a new connector to the GlobalLink Term Manager. As Alchemy CATALYST is part of the TransPerfect family of companies, it was only natural to include tighter integration between CATALYST and GlobalLink. Linguists will profit from the option to link strings to visual references in all supported file formats thus clarifying ambivalent or specialized terms by including a picture of the object (Figure 2). A second highlight for linguists is the option to link project TTKs with local or online content such as pictures.
The other great improvement is the new Online Review Expert, which allows you to export parts of a project to an online service. This allows subject experts who do not own and are not familiar with translation tools to access and evaluate the content and suggest improvements. This, however, requires access to a GlobalLink Translation and Review Portal. Software engineers will appreciate the option to include links to any type of content relevant to segments, and by being able to automate the import of such links by attaching an XLIFF file containing the link information. Smaller enhancements include a much-improved Update Expert, which updates TTKs automatically if just a few files in large projects changed. This update process is designed to facilitate agile localization, keeping development and localization tracks in sync. The introduction of an Alchemy cloud server, which hosts third-party pseudotranslation scripts and specialized file parsers that you can download and include into your user profile, allows users to advance collectively. Testing and quality management are now supported by an Adaptable Validation Expert that allows you to define your own tests for consistency, valid translations or “blacklisted” terms. This engine is also hooked up to the cloud server allowing you to download tests defined by others.
In addition to CHM help systems, CATALYST 10 now fully supports MadCap Flare projects, and allows the localization of several mobile phone applications such as Google Android, Windows Phone and Mobile iOS (extracted source files). Other general productivity innovations are user requested features such as advanced search (search by ID, memo content, find and replace by regular expression, and search only last results), a reference browser to display context and visual links described above, and the addition of a memo/comment field into segments.
Usage and evaluation
As I had not used CATALYST for a couple of versions, I was truly amazed at the amount of innovation and sophistication that had been put into an already very powerful tool. I will mainly comment on version 10 features but include some of the most important new features from version 9. CATALYST’s interface became even more powerful, flexible and elegant. On one of my evaluation machines, I did notice some re-draw issues with the Translator Toolbar pane, though they were easily solved by re-docking the pane.
My favorite new feature in CATALYST is the option to send all segments automatically to Google Translate or PROMT (both free for CATALYST users) using the Leverage Expert, and retrieve MT matches for all translatable strings at once. I hope, however, that this useful feature can be supplemented by adding several other (partially) free MT engines such as WorldLingo (CATALYST indicated that there are plans in place to connect to WorldLingo, which is now also part of the TransPerfect family of companies), Microsoft Translator (two million characters per week are free), as well as SDL BeGlobal Community, SDL ATS. In addition, there are currently no connectors to desktop MT solutions such as PROMT and SYSTRANS.
TM databases are selected in the same dialog as MT engines. Multiple TM and MT sources can be selected for use at the same time. There are four different TM servers to choose from, Idiom WorldServers (commercial, now part of SDL) and Wordfast servers. As the connection dialog to Wordfast servers was not explained in the Help file, it took me quite some tweaking and a support e-mail to the Wordfast team until I was able to connect to my online TM through Wordfast’s free browser-based Wordfast Anywhere server, and the likewise free Wordfast VLTM (very large TM) that contains more than two million entries for the selected language pair. In addition, the Language Exchange Expert can be used to connect to Alchemy’s own centralized TM server solution (Alchemy Language Exchange, which requires additional licenses) or you can use another dialog to connect to an SDL Trados TM server. The options for local TMs are also plentiful and reach from other TTKs, Alchemy’s new multilingual XLIFF based .TM format, to Alchemy Publisher Projects, Wordfast TXML and TXLF, TMX, Trados Workbench, and a tab-delimited format as it is used in WordFast. I only had problems with the old Trados Workbench format, which did not allow CATALYST to retrieve batch results when leveraging translations. A minor inconvenience was that you cannot edit local or remote connection details and have to delete them from your list of attached references and then enter them again with the altered settings. In addition, I was unable to export tediously established remote connection details to my notebook that I used to verify my observations on a second machine.
Another fantastic field of innovation for software localization is the establishment of a user-driven exchange platform for CATALYST extensions and settings files, fashionably called Cloud Interaction or Online Repository. This kind of user involvement was first established by SDL for its Trados TM products (OpenExchange) following suggestions in a lively hosted user forum (ideas.sdltrados.com). Alchemy is now the first software localizer to do something similar. At the moment, the cloud hosts user- developed pseudotranslation languages — a great benefit to localizers in less common languages, validation procedures and file parsers. Though moderated by the Alchemy support team, it is not supervised or driven by an established forum, which would contribute to its further success.
The third area of innovation I am really excited about is the ability to link context and visual references to any string. This can tremendously increase the efficiency of translators by avoiding arbitrary entries due to misunderstandings of the subject matter based on words alone. Linked objects are conveniently displayed in a new reference browser pane that is by standard hidden behind the Results bar to the right of the Workspace. It quickly flips in and out when you select a segment with a context link. This can be annoying, as you barely catch a glimpse of it and it is back hidden behind the Results bar. You then need to click on the Reference Browser tab to keep it in view, but it disappears immediately when you go back to edit your translation in the Translator Toolbar. However, you can also permanently dock the Reference Browser instead of the Results Pane that is by standard to the right of the Workspace. Links can be online URLs allowing linguists anywhere in the world to see them, or local files. As the local files are not stored within the TTKs, the potential exists for these to get lost as the TTK is moved to other machines. However, as links are created relative to a customizable root directory, they will not be broken when you move TTKs around on the same machine.
A small but incredibly useful new feature is the option to swap languages in a TTK and make the target become the source. This is not only great for translators, allowing them to utilize TMs and terminology in the opposite language direction, but it also allows project managers to base multilingual projects on a common source language such as English, which usually reduces the price of multilingual projects tremendously.
Project managers setting up terminology databases will surely appreciate the new Term Harvest Expert (Figure 3). It is a fast, configurable and simple way to statistically suggest, fine tune and manually select terminology candidates from multiple TTKs, and extract them into a spreadsheet. This is something that actually works better and is easier to handle than SDL’s MultiTerm Extract. To become fully usable and not require a lot of trial-and-error, however, it needs better documentation. The other great novelty for project managers is the new Project Division Expert that allows larger projects to be split into several sub-projects, each with a certain amount of strings, in a highly customizable and extremely easy and fast way. The only strange thing is that the Project Division Expert is not accessible through the Expert Pane, as are most other Experts. As they are all called Experts, they should all appear at a central place, which logically would be the Expert Pane.
The new Online Review Expert is another great novelty for quality managers and reviewers, as it allows them to send off CATALYST projects to reviewers and subject experts who do not necessarily own CATALYST or do not need to be familiar with it (Figure 4). After reviewing the material in a convenient web portal, results can be re-imported into CATALYST and implemented by quality management. This is very convenient and elegant, but quality management will need to obtain access to a GlobalLink Translation and Review Portal as that is the only way this has been handled up to now. While this demonstrates the integration between Alchemy and GlobalLink brands, CATALYST may profit from an option to export strings that need review to a Microsoft Word file that then can be used by the external reviewer. The file could then be re-imported into CATALYST, as is done in SDL Trados Studio.
As the mobile application market continuously grows, CATALYST 10 features several improvements for the localization of such applications. In addition to source parsing, you can now also include regular Google Android application package files (APKs) directly into TTKs (Figure 5). There is not yet a true visual editor, but visual rendering gives you at least an idea how the string and its translation would look on an Android phone. Unfortunately, CATALYST’s split view to show strings and a visual representation of the UI does not work with this file format, but you can switch between string view and visual view to see how your translation influences the Android screen. Like all other PC-based localization systems, CATALYST 10 is not able to handle iPhone Apps directly but needs extracted resource strings, which can only be extracted on a Mac system. However, localization of iPhone resource strings in CATALYST is then subsequently unsurpassed by any other tool. CATALYST 10 fully supports Windows Phone as this OS is just another .NET clone.
There are many productivity gains in CATALYST 10 (and 9). If you are used to paying attention to autosuggest features of Word or your mobile phone, ezType will boost your typing speed and accuracy by intelligently pulling suggestions from source, target and references. There are several preconfigured accelerators feeding the review pane, such as internal functions like Concordance and Add Terms to your supplementary glossary. Additionally, users can add hooks to their own regularly used sources. Preconfigured sources such as dictionary lookup, thesaurus lookup, medical term lookup and currency conversion demonstrate the power available with this innovative addition.
It is obvious that the developers of Alchemy CATALYST did not miss any of the major developments in the localization market or the innovations of their competitors. Instead, CATALYST continued to develop its strengths and areas of superiority over competitors, expanded into every new major technology, initiated promising novelties introduced by other major players for their own product and surprised all of us with entirely genuine features. CATALYST’s connectedness to other technologies and its reasonably low price for the Translator/Pro version make it a good investment for freelance translators who wish to tap into the software localization market. On the high end, CATALYST remains the market leader for software development companies, big corporations and LSPs, for good reason. Alchemy software development listens to its customers’ needs and keeps its localization efforts at the top of the game. Last but not least, a flexible pricing structure offering any mix of desktop and server deployments contributes to Alchemy CATALYST’s well-deserved success.