Software is everywhere, and much of it in the modern day can be had for free – but there’s free, and then there’s ‛free.’
Today I’ll touch on the subject of software – specifically free software – since in the modern age even famously technophobic translation workers have to use plenty of software tools on a regular basis. And as freelancers, we have to pay for everything we use, so we’re obviously very interested in free alternatives to expensive programs.
Twenty years ago free software was often of dubious quality and security, but today most of the free software you use is perfectly stable and secure – but that doesn’t mean that all free software is created equally. Because there’s free, and then there’s ‛free.’
It’s safe to say that except in some very specific areas, there is free software available for just about any task you need to accomplish, from word processing (Open Office, Libre Office) to graphic manipulation (gIMP) to translation memory tasks (OmegaT). These examples all have two things in common: They don’t cost you anything aside from electricity, Internet bandwidth, and time to download and install, and they are Open Source.
Open Source means that the source code to these applications is freely available. If you know how to work in computer programming, you can load up the source and inspect it, verifying its security and how it works, and even change it or add to it and output an augmented version of the software that you can then distribute. You can even sell Open Source software if you wish, as long as you follow the rules and offer the source code back to the community – the company Red Hat sells a custom version of the Open Source Linux operating system, in fact – or more precisely they sell support packages. The advantages here are huge: If an application lacks a feature it can be added by the community, and if the creator or “maintainer” of the software gets tired of keeping it updated, someone else can step in and take over.
Free but Closed
On the other hand there is free software that isn’t Open Source. It’s given away, but the source code is closed off and you can’t see it, and you’re reliant on the company that makes it to add new features and security. While some closed software is perfectly fine, the fact is you’ll never know for sure what you’re installing on your computer – and companies exist to make money, so there are often drawbacks, like embedded advertising or sketchy data collection.
I’m not saying you can never use free software that’s no Open Source, but it’s something to think about.
Of course, not all Open Source alternatives are ideal. While OmegaT is a fine translation application, many people prefer to purchase SDL-Trados software instead, because they feel the feature list is more robust, or because they want to have tech support – most Open Source applications are created and maintained by volunteers, so there’s no such thing as customer service!
Image courtesy goddesslife.com