SDL Trados Studio 2017 review

SDL Language Technologies’ Trados Studio is the de-facto standard when it comes to the translation and localization industry. If you’re a translator, like me, you’re surely well aware of job postings saying “Trados required” and you probably have grudgingly agreed to purchase an expensive copy of this CAT tool, even if you don’t like SDL’s market practices or don’t necessarily find it the best translation software around. Trados Studio 2017 has just been released, following a webinar/presentation that highlighted its newest features and a few tweets by Paul Filkin like this one. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the webinar, but I researched these new features and I was willing to try them out in the trial version that’s now available on SDL’s website. Oddly enough, even though I registered to be notified when the trial was available, I received no such notification and discovered its availability by mere chance. Way to go, SDL!

Versions and pricing

In keeping with the versioning started with Trados Studio 2014, the 2017 edition too is available in five versions: Starter, Freelance, Freelance Plus, Freelance Ultimate, and Professional.

Starter is offered at a yearly subscription of 99€ and gives limited features. Most notably, Starter users have the following restrictions:

  • Limited translation memory size (approx. 50,000 words)
  • Works only with SDL packages and single file documents
  • Inability to create projects and process multiple files simultaneously
  • TTX and ITD files can be used and saved, but not saved out as a translated target file
  • SDL MultiTerm is not included – termbases can be used, but not created, added or edited.

It is then clear that Trados Studio 2017 Starter is mostly a tool for occasional translators, not for professionals.

The Freelance version, priced at 695€ (although you can get much better deals with group purchases on sites like ProZ) is much less limited, allowing to process multiple files at once and creating termbases. It does not, however, allow to create SDL packages, only return ones, and thus is aimed at freelance translators working with Language Service Providers. Freelance Plus is pretty much identical to the Freelance version, but allows the user to install Trados Studio on two different computers instead of just one and costs more (855€). The Freelance Ultimate version is the most expensive of those aimed at individual translators and will set you back 1455€. It’s basically a Freelance Plus with the addition of AutoSuggest Creator and MultiTerm Extract. I find it ironic that you can just purchase Trados Studio 2017 Freelance Plus, AutoSuggest Creator and MultiTerm Extract separately at the same price. Why offering a Freelance Ultimate if the customer won’t save anything?

There are also a few upgrade licenses. These are aimed at those who already have a license for Trados Studio 2011 or 2014 and cost 255€. People who’re still on Trados Studio 2007 are out of luck and will need to purchase a new license if they want to take advantage of the features offered by the latest edition of the software.

Lastly, the Professional edition costs 2495€ and is aimed at LSP and enterprises for use by their Project Managers. It includes more advanced functionality, like creating SDLPPX packages, customizing tasks, unlimited language pairs per project, and joining a company domain. Users of Trados Studio 2011 and 2014 Professional can upgrade their version for 795€.

This review will focus on the Freelance edition, because that’s the one that most of the readers of this website are likely to be interested in.

First run

After installing Trados Studio, you’ll be greeted by a wizard that will let you set up the program. You can decide if you want to send anonymous usage statistics or not, the profile you intend to use, and will be required to enter your name and email account. The whole process takes less than a couple minutes to complete and isn’t much different than that of previous versions of Trados Studio. At the end of the wizard, the main window will show up. Oddly enough, it seems to glitch out every time it’s opened. This didn’t happen with previous versions of Trados Studio and I hope it gets fixed in a future update.

Here’s a video showing the window glitch:

It’s not a bug that breaks the program or anything, but one would expect such an issue with a beta version, not a post-release one.

Design & User experience

Trados Studio has featured a ribbon bar inspired by that of Microsoft Office since at least version 2007. In the following releases of Trados, the ribbon has changed relatively little and generally only in appearance. Four tabs are available: Home, View, Add-Ins, and Help. The content of the Home tab is context-sensitive, changing depending on what the user is currently working on. Functionality-wise, it’s pretty much identical to that of Trados 2014.

I personally find white ribbons to be heavy on the eyes, so I suggest you modify the color scheme to Dark Grey from the View tab in the ribbon.

The menus haven’t changed at all either: you still get the same options and functionality you’re used to.

New features

The two most notable features in Trados Studio 2017 are the Adaptive MT engine and the upLIFT adaptive translation system. AdaptiveMT promises to revolutionize the way LSPs use machine translation by featuring a self-learning system that takes into account post-edits to provide better results with each consecutive translation. SDL has been relatively silent about this new feature. The only document about it that I could find, besides the product brief for Studio 2017, is this blog post that mostly explains how to use the feature, but doesn’t go into details concerning its inner workings. Adaptive MT uses SDL’s own Language Cloud system, so I had no way of testing it for this review. In theory, it should be a mix of machine translation and translation memory. If it works well, more is better. If it doesn’t, it’s easy to ignore (you have to specifically tell Trados to use SDL Language Cloud if you want to use Adaptive MT). I should point out that at the time of this writing, only English to French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Dutch is supported. SDL plans on adding more language pairs in the future, although there’s no word on which one are going to be added just yet.

upLIFT, on the other hand, is a feature that I believe many more people will find useful. It’s actually composed of two different functionalities: a fragment recaller and a fuzzy repairer. What this means is that upLIFT manages partial matches within your translation memories a little differently. It doesn’t merely look for a similar translation unit, but tries to assemble fuzzy matches in order to give more results than what simple matching would return. Think of it as a hybrid between a traditional translation memory and an automatically-managed termbase. Unfortunately, it seems that at this point it’s not 100% reliable, as some matches that one would assume should return an assembled match does not. When it actually works, it’s a little wonder. Perhaps its unreliability is due to the small size of my translation memory and a bigger one will yield more accurate results.

A general lack of new functionality

Besides the two features I discussed above, Trados Studio 2017 doesn’t bring anything else new to the table. The list of file types supported is the same seen in Studio 2014, with a more advanced multilingual Excel support (which still pales in comparison to that of MemoQ), and still no support for converting POT files to PO, even though even OmegaT can do that these days.

In that regard, it fells almost as if SDL has given up on the development of Trados Studio, resting on the laurels of being a successful language service provider and having a strong user base among other LSP who use their software. It is easy, when you are the dominant firm in a certain field, to overrate your success and become oblivious to change and competition, which in the end will inevitably turn out to be your downfall. It’s happened in the past and it will undoubtedly happen to SDL too, if they don’t realize that their customers want them to innovate, want them to stay competitive, want them to enable them to do their job better.

Conclusion

When all is said and done, Trados Studio 2017 definitely works as advertised, but not because SDL went the extra mile to add astonishing new functionality. On the contrary, it’s a good piece of software because very little has changed, and thus it’s hard for me to wholeheartedly recommend my readers to purchase a new, expensive copy or an upgrade. Most of the translators I know don’t really like machine translation and those who will take up post-editing jobs will usually receive a text that’s already machine-translated, so the usefulness of AdaptiveMT to them is dubious at best, especially considering that I know no one that uses SDL Language Cloud. upLIFT is a much more useful novelty, but I really don’t think that it alone is worth paying 255€ for an upgrade or 695€ or more for a new license. I can only see one type of person who would actually upgrade to Studio 2017: those who are still on Studio 2011 and are afraid that the next version of SDL’s CAT tool will lock them out the upgrade path. But even them will probably wait a few months prior to the release of Trados 2018 (or whatever version number they’ll end up choosing), since SDL is known for doing deals such as “upgrade to Trados version X now to receive version Y for free once it’s out”.

About Andrea Luciano Damico 101 Articles
Andrea Luciano Damico is a freelance translator from Italy. Among his interests are linguistics, technology, video games, and generally being a chill guy. He runs Let's Translate.it and Tech4Freelancers.net.