In the early years of the millennium, I wrote here that "a word processor or office suite is now the chief tool of almost all translators, and I'll take the liberty of assuming that any of my colleagues reading this will be using one". It is questionable whether this is still even true; most professional translators now probably work in a dedicated CAT tool. The basic principle, however, still applies: compatibility is paramount. Translators receiving texts from customers must be able to return them with as little "collateral damage" to the file formatting as possible.

(It is worth noting that some changes to file formatting during translation may be inevitable. Reasons include the demands of language itself: the target text may be longer than the source text, or require additional formatting, such as presentation of a word in italics; differences between versions or configurations even when the same office suite is used; poor formatting by the original author).

The de-facto industry standard continues to be Microsoft Office and its Office Open XML format. A word processor (or spreadsheet or presentation program) for use in a translation workflow must therefore support these formats as near-seamlessly as possible. Whilst the desirability of Microsoft's (or anyone other vendor's) in the desktop software sphere is obviously debatable, the accessibility of Microsoft's Office Open XML format has hugely facilitated compatibility between different office software products.

LibreOffice has assumed the mantle of the ubiquitous comprehensive office suite on the Linux desktop. It owes its legacy to Star Office and OpenOffice.org. Star Office is now defunct; OpenOffice.org lives on in the form of Apache OpenOffice, but lags LibreOffice in development, functionality and support of the open-source community.

LibreOffice can be found installed by default in most modern, fully featured Linux distributions. Few other office suites have achieved more than marginal penetration in the Linux desktop market in general, much less among translators.

Sample file in LibreOffice
Sample file in LibreOffice

SoftMaker is a comprehensive office suite (i.e. comprising word processor, spreadsheet and presentation program corresponding to Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint). It supports Microsoft's Office Open XML formats and claims excellent compatibility with them.

Sample file in TextMaker
Sample file in the Textmaker word processor from the Softmaker office suite, showing the Microsoft-style ribbon interface (the "classic" interface can also be selected)

Abiword is a lightweight word processor. Whilst far too limited in functionality (and therefore by definition in compatibility with MS file formats) to be a serious tool for most translation work, scenarios for its use in translation are conceivable, particularly coupled with its small footprint. It also has a command-line mode that is useful for batch file conversion.

For the best possible compatibility with Microsoft Office, there is no beating Microsoft Office itself. Microsoft Office runs well on Crossover Linux and PlayOnLinux.

Sample file in MS Word 2007 running on Crossover Linux
Sample file in MS Word 2007 running on Crossover Linux

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