Free & open source software for translation

Free & open source software for translation

I now work exclusively using free and open source software, mostly running on the Debian/GNU Linux distribution. This means I have to spend less time – and money – fixing computers and securing systems from intrusion, fighting malware, viruses and the like. Furthermore, it means I can therefore turn around your translation more quickly.

Although I work on Linux boxes, all the software mentioned below is also available for other platforms, such as Mac OSX and Windows.

Office suite

Naturally, the first requirement is an office suite as a replacement for the ubiquitous MS Office.

My preference is LibreOffice that gives you six feature-rich applications for all your document production and data processing needs: Writer (word processing), Calc (spreadsheet), Impress (presentation), Draw, Math and Base (database). LibreOffice’s native file format is ODF (Open Document Format), although it can read and write MS Office formats.

Another alternative: Apache OpenOffice, whose native file format is likewise ODF; it can also read and write MS Office formats. However, it is not updated as frequently as LibreOffice

Both LibreOffice and OpenOffice can have their functionality increased by third party plug-ins known as extensions. Although both Libre and Open are from a common root, their extensions are not always mutually compatible: follow the links for LibreOffice extensions and OpenOffice extensions.


Occasionally some simple graphics work is required (e.g. translating the text in images, diagrams, etc.) and for this GIMP is ideal. GIMP is an acronym of GNU Image Manipulation Program.


For converting text-based files (particularly PDFs) into editable text, I recommend GImageReader, which uses the Tesseract OCR engine.

Web browser

Essential for consulting search engines, databases, etc., one’s spoilt for choice with free/open source web browsers. My favourites are:

although plenty of others are available.

Email client

Although I don’t use an email client myself (preferring to use webmail and story my correspondence remotely on someone else’s machine), Thunderbird – from the same stable as Firefox – is a good reliable bet.

Translation memory

OmegaT is a free translation memory application written in Java that’s intended for professional translators.

2 thoughts on “Free & open source software for translation

  1. Tony Baldwin

    Hey, Steve!
    Your advocacy for FLOSS in our industry is much appreciated.
    I have a more comprehensive list of various tools available for us translators who are also FLOSS users at

    Also, I’ve been using OmegaT for some years now.
    I LOVE IT!
    It’s really my no. 1 money-maker, the most used software in my translation work tool-kit.
    I use various cli tools for document conversions and file preparation, use my browser extensively for research, etc., of course, but OmegaT really pays the rent around here.
    It’s simple and easy to use (IMHO, and, admittedly, I don’t have a great deal of experience with other CATs, but have used Wordfast online and Swordfish, which aren’t Free, and also Anaphraseus, which I’ve found useful, in some cases, but not nearly to easy to use or handy as OmegaT), and has a great deal of useful features. Support is excellent on the dedicated Yahoo! group. Also, of course, you can’t beat the price.

    1. Steve Woods Post author

      Hi Tony

      Many thanks for your useful and helpful comments.

      I’m just taking my first faltering steps with OmegaT.

      Moreover, as the secretary of a free/open source IT co-operative in my spare time, I’d be churlish not to bang the drum for FLOSS.


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