Roughly 21 months have passed since SDL released Trados Studio 2014. The 2014 version stressed product attributes categorized under “Easier, Smarter and Faster.” As documented in our coauthored review published in the June 2014 MultiLingual, Angelika Zerfaß and I agreed that the release largely lived up to its hype. Upon hearing of a 2015 release, I was curious to learn how SDL could justify yet another new version after such a short period of time.
This article conducts a high-level sortie through the new release to explore what SDL envisions under the 2015 buzzword triptych: “Quality, Productivity and Personalization.” My first impression is that SDL has added compelling new functionality that raises the bar in areas that translators will find very helpful.
Reports by beta testers have been largely unanimous about what they have deemed to be two new killer features. These are TQA and Retrofit, so we’ll begin with them right away.
Translation Quality Assessment (TQA)
Language service providers continually face the dilemma of how to objectively quantify the quality of their deliverables to customers and of those delivered to them from their employees and subcontracted translators. To this end, there have been several mainstream quality models advanced over the past years ranging, for example, from LISA (quite old, but still in use), through the TAUS Dynamic Quality Framework (DQF), which is quite new and gaining adoption. There have also been cofunded open source product initiatives such as translate5 (see the September 2013 issue of MultiLingual) that provide quality rating solutions. SDL Trados 2015 goes beyond these individual initiatives to provide a wide-ranging quality rating framework that embraces four popular approaches by default. They are LISA, TAUS DQF, MQM and SAE J2450. The four approaches are prepackaged in the form of project templates.
But there are numerous other current initiatives, alternate approaches and customized derivatives of existing approaches. Therefore, the SDL Trados platform is also configurable. Users can define their own hierarchy of issue tracking elements based on Categories, optional Subcategories, Severities and Scoring Penalties. In addition to setting up the quality criteria, a pass/fail threshold needs to be set. Revisers are not limited to just associating quality scores with translation units. They may add comments to any translation unit in a type of expanded “change tracking” mode. The quality assessment platform also incorporates reporting, so resources responsible for evaluating and maintaining quality standards can easily generate reports for project stakeholders.
The inclusion of the TQA platform brings a functionality palette to the individual user or smaller language service provider (LSP) that has typically been restricted to the province of enterprises in the past (Figure 1). It also closes what was a gap between SDL Trados Studio and some competitive products.
In planning the new feature set, SDL recognized that among their customer base, real-world revision does not always occur in bilingual environments. Some revisers don’t like the two-column Word format or can’t use SDLXLIFF files. SDL customers have asked for an option to incorporate revision performed on prefinalized target documents in native file formats. This is now enabled with a feature dubbed Retrofit, which essentially is a type of selective alignment. Retrofit retrieves changes made in the original target file formats. It displays the changes in an intermediate view, so that editors or project managers can evaluate the scope before committing them back to the translation environment (Figure 2). Retrofit will function with all supported file formats.
The AutoCorrect feature is new. The functionality is very much like AutoCorrect in Microsoft Word, in which real-time correction is offered as one writes. Frequently misspelled words are corrected on the fly. For example, “MutliTerm” is automatically changed to “MultiTerm” moments after the writer enters the incorrectly spelled word. Change candidate words are stored in a set of files. The lists, which are now the same as the 136-language default lists offered by Microsoft Word, can be amended or extended in the Settings.
Previous versions of SDL Trados Studio shipped with an AutoSuggest feature that provided fragmentized output from translation memory as potential phrase suggestions. In the previous version, it was necessary to generate AutoSuggest lists from aligned data or translation memories (TMs). Although this is still possible, it is no longer the only option. The upgraded version — AutoSuggest 2.0 — now supports inclusion of machine translation (MT) output as an AutoSuggest source.
Because AutoSuggest 2.0 also provides input from MT at the fragment level, it could potentially initiate a major change in how translators incorporate making use of MT. Translators no longer must patiently post-edit entire segments of marginal MT output. They now receive that output in the form of relevant fragment suggestions to be leveraged or ignored. This occurs in real-time as they type in the translation.
AutoSuggest 2.0 is not limited to the SDL MT offering. Any MT engine can be incorporated or combined with any other MT engine, TM or AutoSuggest dictionary. MT no longer controls translators’ throughput efficiency. The augmented plethora of potential match sources might, however, produce so many candidates as to overwhelm a user. SDL has mitigated possible confusion by providing settings that govern the number of input characters after which match candidates are suggested. Users can also set a ceiling on the number of suggestions offered.
With AutoSuggest 2.0, translators now have greater control over MT, having been granted the opportunity to use MT in a smarter and more productive manner.
SDL’s strategy in creating the OpenExchange site in which independent app developers can provide useful add-on features has begun to pay off for both users and the app developers themselves. OpenExchange’s rich variety of optional functionality — much of it free of charge — creates a kind of democratization of SDL Trados Studio. It moves Studio’s market positioning away from being just a translation productivity application and into the configurable productivity platform space. As of this writing, this positioning represents a unique value proposition in the translation technology market.
Now, several selected apps from what currently amounts to a range of over 140 possibilities listed on OpenExchange have been included in the core product. AnyTM is notable among these (Figure 3).
Prior releases of SDL Trados Studio have strictly enforced the language pair definitions. For example, suppose a translator has a TM about Product A in French for France and a TM for Product B in French for Canada. Now suppose there is a request for translation of Product C, which is an amalgamation of products A and B. Previously-enforced language pair strictness would have precluded referencing both TMs to retrieve the most appropriate matches. Or else it would have required lengthy workarounds involving exporting and importing TMs to merge all relevant content for the new language pair. The OpenExchange AnyTM applet provided a solution that enabled the wider reference panorama. This functionality is now built into the SDL Trados Studio 2015 release. In order to prevent pollution of one language variant with translation units from another variant, the user can select into which TM any newly confirmed segments are returned.
Imagine another scenario in which a translator has two subject matter-related TMs that are in opposite language-pair directions, for example, German>English and English>German. If desired, both TMs may be updated simultaneously in the appropriate language directions with newly confirmed translation units. AnyTM makes this possible now in the core product without the add-on.
A final scenario in which AnyTM can be useful is that of a mixed-source language document that is being translated into one target language. In this situation, in order to find matches as the translator moves through the document from language section to language section, more than one TM needs to be referenced. AnyTM automatically detects the source document language at the segment level, searching and updating in conjunction with the appropriate TM. Should the necessity arise, for example in the case of two very similar source language variants, the automatic detection may be overridden by the user, also at the segment level.
Cynics may jump to the conclusion that SDL has plundered the OpenExchange for good ideas and then just plonked them into the core product. This is not so. To keep the creative juices flowing, SDL compensates the original developers for their contribution in addition to providing increased quality control and software maintenance manpower. This enhances the quality and performance of the newly mainstream product components. Many are developed on speculation by SDL employees to serve niche needs, but not put into the core product. This keeps it from becoming overloaded with features that serve only a small constituency. Given the number of apps now available on OpenExchange, the model appears to be working well.
Another small but very useful feature is the new Bookmark function. Translators working on longer documents will appreciate the ability to set bookmark points to which they can easily jump at a later time. A typical spot for bookmarking might be a questionable term that the translator thinks might come up again later in the document. Another could be a term that needs to be queried, or it could be the place in the file where work has been stopped for the night. Much like in Microsoft Word, a bookmark enables the translator to jump directly to the place in the file where work ceased in the prior session immediately upon opening the file. A translator can also leave a reference note associated with a bookmark, for example, where a definition of the term in question might be found.
Many of us have wasted innumerable minutes launching the Windows Character Map, then searching for a desired symbol, having forgotten where it was located in the Character Map the last time it was needed. The Insert Symbols feature enables the user to quickly and easily insert a special character while using the translation editor (Figure 4). Perhaps the most compelling attribute of this feature is the ability to associate shortcut keys with frequently used characters.
The good news for users of SDL Trados Studio 2014 is that AnyTM, Bookmarks and Insert Symbols can be downloaded from the OpenExchange website, and they are free. The good news for users of prior SDL Trados Studio versions who upgrade to the 2015 version is that they can now find these useful functions embedded in the core product. No additional download and install is required.
SDL Trados Studio designers have once again devoted thought to future proofing. SDL originally adopted the Ribbon paradigm in Studio 2014. This brought the user interface in line with the then ubiquitous Microsoft Office products. The Ribbon in Studio 2015 has been redesigned to blend harmoniously with the flatter look and feel of newer Microsoft product releases. Although this redesign is not a personalization feature per se, the look and feel is now more like Office 2016 or Windows 10.
In addition, the sections of the 2015 Ribbon have been rearranged to more closely reflect how they are arranged in Microsoft Word. The Cut, Copy and Paste icons are on the left end of the Ribbon, just inside the Project Settings icon. While this particular example is not an actual change, the new, flatter look of the Ribbon makes it more obvious. Moving across the Ribbon to the right, the user encounters some formatting icons directly following the File Actions section. These are in a location similar to the formatting icons in Word, although in Word there are many more. Finally, at the far right, just as in Word, there is an Editing section comprising Find, Replace and Select functions.
More precisely to the point for personalization is granting users the ability in the 2015 release to customize the Ribbon tabs and the Quick Access toolbar. Icons may be added, removed and regrouped to suit an individual user’s taste and daily usage needs. Our review of the 2014 release observed that the Ribbon seemed somewhat cluttered and that some of the icons were located in places that seemed unintuitive. Users can now change things around to suit their own intuitions for usability and user interface (UI) design.
At this point it would be appropriate to mention another criticism that we published in our review of the 2014 release. Zerfaß is a real fan of using keyboard shortcuts, as opposed to having to navigate around the monitor expanse to click on icons. She felt strongly that a significant deficit of the 2014 release was what she perceived as a paucity of shortcuts. SDL has addressed this in the 2015 edition. Shortcut keys are configurable and there are a lot of options. While we would like to think that our review changed SDL’s attitude about this issue, we expect that it is more likely that vocal users ganged up on the forums or lobbied directly with SDL to have more shortcut key configurability. In any case, the functionality is there. Thank you, SDL. Better late than never!
There is more to the story than just configurability. SDL brought a user experience resource solely dedicated to the SDL Trados Studio development team into the mix for the 2015 version. This new influence resulted in greater visual consistency within groups of functionally-related icons. SDL has clearly realized that certain competitive products have gained momentum by virtue of a reputation for great usability. Steps are being taken to mitigate the perceived disadvantage without making changes so radical that the loyal Studio user base suffers from excessive transition pain.
Other noteworthy changes
This article concentrates on the big-ticket items, but rest assured that SDL has included a number of smaller feature enhancements. For example, the 255-character limitation on term recognition has been removed. More information about such smaller enhancements can be gleaned by perusing the advertising material or downloading the free 30-day trial version. Two somewhat more important new features need to be mentioned, though. These reside in the rubric of file format support.
In the interest of future readiness, the development team has embarked on a larger-scale upgrade of support for changes to ubiquitous existing file formats, as well as for newly-emerging file types. The first upgrade in this series is fully redesigned support for the most recent Microsoft Word format. The redesign enhances support for inline tags as well as for sophisticated Word features such as WordArt and content controls. This filter is available as an option alongside the existing filter that supports Word releases 2007 through 2013. As a by-product of this filter rework, SDL’s developers have begun to add more user-friendly decision options to replace what might have been interpreted as cryptic error messages in past releases. Given that such error messages were a focus of criticism in the past, we heartily encourage SDL to continue down this path.
Probably the most problematic file format in the world is PDF. Industry participants could sometimes believe that it was invented with the intent to turn all translators’ hair white. SDL has now included direct support for OCR-based importing of scanned PDF files. This is based on the PDF OCR conversion engine from software developer Solid Document. For more information on this engine and the 14 languages it currently supports, visit www.soliddocuments.com/solid-ocr.htm.
As with all OCR products, the Solid Document engine works better on some languages and files than on others. The gating factors are associated with the scan quality, as well as the application and the layout of the document originally used to create the PDF. So, if the original files are not available, there is a chance that the translator might get lucky. Or perhaps frustrated. Whatever the outcome, it is now built into SDL Trados Studio 2015. No secondary OCR product is required. Good luck!
I was recently stunned to learn that employees at one of my LSP clients did not realize that MultiTerm is delivered as a component of SDL Trados Studio. That company did not even comprehend that they could sell terminology creation and management as an additional service, even though they had the tools available. LSPs that have purchased the SDL Trados Studio products really should make use of their investment!
MultiTerm is a powerful, robust and mature product. But, as with any software product, it has some issues. For the 2015 release, SDL has opted to concentrate primarily on fixing bugs — over 70 issues reported over the years have been addressed in this release. SDL has also included incremental functionality upgrades, instead of introducing new whiz-bang features. A number of long-standing issues, for example, handling of cross-references between terms, have been addressed.
In keeping with the UI changes in SDL Trados Studio, there has been an equivalent refresh of the MultiTerm UI including Ribbon customization capability (Figure 5). Users can create settings templates that can be shared with other users. This feature will be particularly helpful for large-scale deployments. In addition, MultiTerm now has secure entry class options for security-conscious enterprises.
Language support has also been upgraded to achieve parity with other SDL products and current operating systems. This raises the total to over 500 languages and language variants.
GroupShare is SDL’s offering in the translation collaboration space. It is a multicomponent solution that combines SDL’s Translation Memory Server, Terminology Server and Project Server amalgamated within one environment. It is one of several conceptually similar web-based products that provide an environment for multiple resources to work on a single project simultaneously. GroupShare is used by enterprise clients and LSPs in combination with translation business management platforms such as Plunet or XTRF to extend functionality laterally. GroupShare 2015 includes two main areas of enhancement. The first is easily understandable by the layman; the second is not.
As GroupShare gained in adoption and deployments became populated with many projects, better archiving of past projects has become increasingly important to customers. SDL has paid attention to these customer requirements by enriching the options as to how and when projects are archived, and how they may be restored if future needs so require.
Also, in the continued theme of future-proofing its product palette, SDL has invested in enhancing the Representational State Transfer (REST) API. REST is a popular architecture used by web applications. Simply stated, conformance with this architecture enhances numerous useful attributes of applications such as GroupShare that support one application communicating with another application or with users. Among many others, these attributes include performance, scalability, simplicity and modifiability. This is important to ensure continual improvement in the user experience and integration with other associated industry applications.
SDL Trados Studio 2015 is a compelling upgrade because it combines new productivity and quality assessment features with improved user-friendliness. SDL continues to work at dispelling the notion that its user support is deficient by creating and contributing to user forums and communities. Upgrade costs have also become more affordable for the rank-and-file user base. Given that previously less expensive competitive products have gradually become more expensive, the value proposition offered by SDL makes increasing sense. Individual users and LSPs alike should not fail to download the 30-day trial and give the new version a full evaluation.