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This document provides guidance for professional translators who have either decided to use the Linux operating system, or wish to experiment with it. The HowTo should be read in conjunction with the document "Linux Myths and FAQs".

Linux for Translators HOWTO

What you need

In order to use Linux for translation, you need four things:
- suitable hardware;
- a Linux distribution;
- other programs not included in the distribution;
- information.

Suitable hardware

To all intents and purposes, suitable hardware in this case means a PC. There are two approaches to hardware for Linux: you can either try to use an existing PC, or you can buy a PC especially for the purpose.

Using a redundant PC

The first, but not necessarily best, option is to use an old, redundant PC. Provided you are prepared to invest a little time and energy, you should be able to install Linux in a form which will give you some idea of what it is like to work with it. If you opt for this solution, you must, however, make some allowances for older hardware in your assessment. Just as you would not expect the latest version of Windows to install easily and deliver blindingly fast performance on a ten year-old or even five year-old PC, a recent Linux distribution will install more easily and perform better with more recent hardware.

Using your main PC

Note: if you don't know how to back up all your data, or how to fit a second hard drive, or how to do either, and you're not the kind of person who likes to read up and find out how to do things, skip this section and install Linux on a PC of its own.

An alternative to using an old PC is to use your main PC, on which you are presumably running Windows. You can install Linux on such a PC without disturbing the existing Windows installation, and select whether to run Windows or Linux when you boot the PC. For this reason, this solution is described as "dual-boot".

There are two ways of installing Linux on your main PC. One is to install it on the space available on the existing hard drive, i.e. on the space not already used by Windows and your data. The other is to fit a second hard drive on which to install Linux.

Installing Linux on your existing drive next to Windows

Most Linux distributions, if you attempt to install them on a hard drive upon which Windows has already been installed, will detect the Windows installation and will install Linux in the remaining available space, possibly giving you the option of deleting the Windows installation if you wish and making the whole drive available to Linux. (The reverse is not true. If you try to install Windows on Linux system, first kiss goodbye to the Penguin - and your data!) However, don't take my word for it. Don't install Linux on a drive containing any data you value without first backing up that data. Personally, I wouldn't take the risk, which is why I advise you to install Linux on a drive of its own.

If you do install Linux on the same drive as a Windows installation, it will automatically install a boot manager. Then, each time you boot your PC in future, you will see a menu from which you can choose between Linux and Windows.

Installing Linux on a drive of its own

If you have a spare hard drive from an old PC, check that it's big enough for the distribution. I can't give you specific figures because the distributions are getting bigger all the time, as are the sizes of "standard" hard drives. Look on the box of the distribution, or in the manual, or ask another Linux user to find out how big the drive needs to be. If you buy a new drive, don't bother. It'll be more than big enough.

You can either:

- install the drive in place of the Windows drive. This is inconvenient, as you have to open up your PC and swap drives each time you want to use the "other" operating system!

- install the drive in addition to the Windows drive. This is very convenient, as you can choose which system to use each time you boot your PC. In this case, though, the comments above on installing Linux on your existing drive next to Windows apply again: you must be very careful during installation to install Linux on the right drive. Typically, you will see the names of the drive manufacturers and the sizes of the drives, and you must pick the "right" drive from that information. This isn't something you want to get wrong, so I don't recommend you do that, either.

So what do I recommend? Simple: disconnect the Windows drive (no need to remove it - just unplug the cables) and hook the other drive up to the same cable connections. Then install Linux. When you're satisfied that Linux works, fit both hard drives together. You can then select which drive to boot from when you start the PC. Some BIOS systems have a convenient option for this; others require you to change the boot sequence of the drives (typically IDE-0, IDE-1, etc.) in the BIOS settings.

The safest and most hassle-free solution is to fit an interchangeable drive bay (you may have to buy two of them) and use the two drives interchangeably.

Running Linux from a CD

Some distributions don't need to be installed on your hard drive: they run from the CD. This is a safe and convenient way of getting a first impression of Linux. In the long run, though, you will need to install Linux on your hard drive.

Buying a new PC

If you have already made the decision to use Linux for work purposes, don't make the mistake of going out and buying a new, off-the-shelf PC! If you know before buying a PC that you intend to install Linux on it, it's worthwhile selecting components which you know are compatible with Linux, or better still, supported by the particular distribution you wish to install. There are several ways of doing this:
- Buy your PC from a vendor who is able to build a PC for you from components which you specify. Before buying, obtain a list of the components and check whether they are supported by the distribution you intend to use. (See below for which components you need to check, and which you don't need to worry about.) A list of supported components can usually found in the documentation provided with the distribution, or on the distribution vendor's website. If you find components which are not supported, ask the PC vendor for alternatives.
- Better still, buy a PC from a vendor who has experience of building PCs for Linux, and tell him what you plan to do. He will recommend suitable components, saving you the work of checking the components for compatibility.
- Buy a PC with Linux pre-installed. (A list of such vendors would soon be out of date, so I suggest you go hunting on the Internet for "Linux pre-installed". Try narrowing down the search, for example with your country domain, last three months only, etc.) As well as guaranteeing that all the components are compatible with Linux, this also saves you some of the work of configuration. If you consider this option, however, weigh up whether the distribution itself meets your requirements. Selecting the distribution and hardware yourself may be a more satisfactory solution in the long run.

Hardware components generally fall into three categories: those which are supported by the distribution of choice, those which are not supported directly but which can be made to work with some configuration, and those which are not supported at all. Very few hardware components are not supported at all, but unless you have considerable experience with PC configuration, or wish to gain it, trying to get a motley selection of components to work is excessively time-consuming. Here is a brief overview of components and the problems they may pose:
- Motherboard, processor, RAM, other on-board components: these generally pose no problems whatsoever, provided they are not too old, very new, or very exotic. With older hardware, the size of the RAM rather than its type is likely to be the crucial factor.
- Drives - hard drive, floppy, CD-ROM, CD burner, etc.: again, these are generally supported and recognized automatically. Your hard drive must have sufficient capacity for the distribution you intend to install. The biggest problem is new technology: Linux support for completely new technical developments generally lags Windows support by a year or two, so Linux users had to wait a little longer for instance for CD burners (which are now well supported). I can't, of course, predict what goodies the computer industry is going to produce in the future and if I could, I'd be sitting by the pool or driving my Ferrari right now rather than writing this. But you get the idea.
- Video card: this is potentially the biggest problem of them all. The reason for this is that if the video card is not supported, you may find yourself with a Linux installation, but without a GUI, and having to configure your system from the command line. This is fun for geeks but not for the rest of us, so if you're buying a new PC, pay particular attention to the video card.
- Sound card: some of the more obscure sound cards may not be recognized, but this is less of a problem than the video card, as your PC will at least be usable even if it has no sound card at all, and it's much easier to configure a sound card using GUI tools than to configure a video card using command-line tools. Unless you use voice recognition software, like listening to music whilst you work, or absolutely have to have PC that goes BONG! when you have new mail, don't worry too much about the sound card.
- Monitor: monitors are seldom a problem. Most CRT monitors are now recognized, and those that aren't can be configured easily. TFT monitors should also be OK, but check first before buying.
- Modem: most external modems are likely to be OK, but it's worth checking first. Internal modems are a different story: most of these are compatible with Windows only.
- Printer: very cheap printers, like internal modems, are often compatible with Windows only, but printers otherwise generally present no problems.
- Network or ISDN adapter card: these generally present no problems.
- Back-up media: check carefully, particularly with very recent models. Back-up media which have been around for some time, such as the Iomega ZIP drives, are generally well supported.
- Scanner: again, the general rule applies. Avoid anything very old, very new or very exotic, and check support before buying new.

Obtaining a Linux distribution

Before you go looking for a Linux distribution, read this.

Once you've chosen a distribution, or several, you can obtain it - or them - in a number of ways.

- Download a distribution from the vendor's web site. Most distribution vendors offer their products for download free of charge. The drawback is the sheer size, a typical distribution being in the order of several hundred megabytes. With the advent of broadband connections to the Internet, however, downloading a distribution has become more realistic. You will also need a CD burner, as the download will usually be in the form of an ISO image. This needs to be burnt onto a CD, which then serves as the installation medium for the software.

- Buy a distribution from the vendor. In this form, the distribution will include not only the CDs, but also instruction manuals and usually hotline support for a certain period. Hotline support only covers installation and basic configuration - it doesn't extend to actually using the Linux operating system and applications.

- Buy a distribution from a software store. This is the same as buying from the vendor, with one important exception. Unlike Windows, Linux software does not always disappear from the shelves as soon as a newer version appears. The "obsolete" version is quite likely to remain on sale, often at a much reduced price. This is obvious if the newer version is right next to it on the shelf, but that isn't always the case. Entitlement to hotline support may cease when a new version appears, so if you are buying from a store, make sure you know whether you're getting the latest version, for example by checking the vendor's web site. Should you buy an obsolete version by accident, you may still find that the vendor's hotline is willing to help.

- Buy an obsolete distribution from a software store. Now that I've warned you about buying an obsolete distribution by accident, I'll come out and say that a distribution which has only recently been superseded and which a software store will typically sell for a fraction of its new price is one of the best deals around. The manuals alone are usually more than worth the price. The question is whether you want hotline support, which you may no longer be entitled to. If you are just experimenting, though, you may well manage without.

- Borrow or copy a distribution from someone else. This is not only legal, it's what Linux is all about!

- Buy a distribution from a reseller. Some companies make a living by downloading distributions, burning them onto CD, and reselling them at a fraction of the price of a full distribution. This is also (for the majority of distributions) legal. This is much the same as downloading a distribution yourself, except that you pay a couple of Euros or Dollars to save yourself the hassle of downloading and burning a distribution onto CD. The original vendor makes no money on your purchase, and you receive no manual or hotline support. To find a suitable reseller, go looking for "Linux resellers" on the Internet.

- Buy a third-party manual which includes the distribution on CD. As you might expect, such a book may be better or worse than the vendor's own manual. The package probably won't include any hotline support.

Trying several distributions

Do it! Distributions can be obtained so cheaply, by broadband download or from resellers, that it is worth trying several.

Tip: if you decide to try several distributions, you may find it useful to have a set of old DOS disks around. Linux distributions contain tools for managing the hard drive (specifically, for creating and deleting partitions on the drive upon which Linux is to be installed), but these tools look different and behave differently. For instance, when a distribution finds an existing installation of Windows or Linux on a hard drive, it may ask you whether you want to delete that installation. Alternatively, it may simply install itself, leaving your installation intact. This can be inconvenient if you are trying out several distributions. Although not absolutely necessary, the utilities provided on DOS diskettes can be useful for deleting unwanted partitions.

Try installing a distribution, or two, or several, and make notes. Which of them does the best job of recognizing your hardware? Try getting your printer and/or Internet connection to work. Make a note of what programs are available, particularly word processors and web browsers. Try using them, creating and editing files, moving files around. Try customizing the desktop, changing the look and feel. Experiment!

It is quite likely that different distributions will look completely different. If so, this has little to do with the distribution itself, and more to do with the desktop which it uses. Most distributions use GNOME or KDE, or both, and you may also encounter different versions of these desktops. Don't judge a distribution by its appearance, because that can be changed easily. On the other hand, if everything appears to be very slow, try selecting a different desktop when logging in (by the time you get this far, you will understand what is meant by "logging in"), if a choice is available. If not, or the distribution is still slow, it is probably too demanding for your hardware, and you need to look further.

Once you've installed a distribution you like, buy a copy from the original vendor, if you obtained your copy elsewhere. The printed manuals are useful to have even if only for reference, and the vendor will receive something in return for the value he has provided.

Programs (applications)

Below is a list of applications which you are likely to need in connection with translation. Some - if you are lucky, most - will be included in your distribution. The rest, or those you need, you will have to obtain elsewhere. The category headings take you to more comprehensive information on the "Linux for Translators" resource pages, should you need it.

Unless otherwise stated, the applications mentioned are open-source. It's worth noting that most of them are also available for Windows, so if you are interested in experimenting with Linux, you might consider running some of the typical software on Windows first, to gain an initial impression. The best programs to try at the present time are without a doubt (office suite), OmegaT or the Araya Suite (translation memory), and Mozilla, Netscape Communicator and Opera (web browsers).

Word processor/office suite

- Nothing else comes close. Make sure you have it, and make sure the version you have is a recent one, as it is improving all the time.
- Textmaker. The closest contender to Textmaker is commercial software (albeit very inexpensive), so don't expect to find it packaged with a Linux distribution.
- Abiword. A lightweight word processor, interesting if you are trying to run Linux on old and/or slow hardware.

Translation memory

At the time of writing, you have a number of choices, but they fall into two categories: standalone applications running on Java, and plug-in applications for use with Microsoft Word. For the former, you will need the Java Runtime Environment (see below under "Interpreters") in addition to the application concerned. For the latter, you will need Microsoft Word (or Office), version '97, 2000 or XP, and also Crossover Office (see below) in order to be able to run MS Word/Office on Linux.

Java applications:
- OmegaT. Free, but not (as yet) included in any distribution. Has a small but growing user base, mainly among Windows and Mac users but also including some Linux users.
- Araya and Frankenstein. Inexpensive (around $100) commercial applications with demonstration versions available for download. At the time of writing, I have yet to find any translators using either of these.

MS Word plug-ins:
- Wordfast, Wordfisher, Sprint. A great many translators use Wordfast, and growing numbers are now using it on Linux in conjunction with Crossover Office.

Crossover Office

Crossover Office enables you to use Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) on Linux. It is a commercial application, costing around $60 (2003). (You will also need a legitimate copy of Microsoft Office or Word.) If you are experimenting with Linux, ignore Crossover for the time being - you already know what MS Word/Office looks like. If you have taken the decision to begin working seriously with Linux, Crossover Office eliminates any remaining uncertainty regarding file compatibility with MS Office formats, and extends your translation memory options.

Some Linux distributions include a Crossover Office licence.


"Interpreters" in this context means software needed to run programs written in a particular programming language.
- Java. Most Linux distributions will include the Java Runtime Environment (JRE), which is sufficient to run Java applications. If you are particularly interested in running applications on Java, check that the version is reasonably recent. The SDK (software development kit) has all the functions of the JRE, but also enables you to program in Java and to localize Java applications.
- Perl. Perl is becoming increasingly popular for small utilities, so is well worth having.
- Tcl/Tk. As for Perl.


Any suitable distribution will include the Internet applications a translator is likely to need: web browser, e-mail client, and (if needed) ftp client. In view of the extent to which they are likely to be used, however, it's particularly worth trying several browsers. I recommend trying at least two of the following three:
- Mozilla (open-source)
- Opera (commercial, but with a fully-functional free demonstration version)
- Netscape Communicator (free)

Adobe Acrobat Reader

The chances are that you're already familiar with the Acrobat Reader. The Linux version is included in most Linux distributions, but if you use it a lot, check the version. The latest version can be downloaded from Adobe if needed, but from my experience is not easy to install.


The other thing you will need is information. It is important to distinguish between the different kinds of information:
- on installation;
- on configuration;
- on using Linux;
- on using the applications.

The best source of information on installation is, not surprisingly, the installation manual. So, it's a good idea to have one! If you don't have a printed installation manual for the distribution you are using, look for an electronic copy on the installation CD. (You can look at the CD's contents on your Windows PC.) Either print it out, or, if you are not installing Linux on your only PC, copy it onto the hard drive of another PC, refer to it there during the installation process, and save some trees.

Configuration is likely to be covered to some extent in the installation manual, so look there first.

As far as using Linux is concerned, I suggest that you don't. That's right: don't use Linux. Avoid having anything to deal directly with the operating system if at all possible. Use the graphical utilities provided with your distribution, and when you see a true Linux fanatic, remember to duck.

Finally, using applications. Here the best advice is "RTFM", which means "read the fine manual". The applications you are going to use will either have help texts, or a separate manual, or both. Be radical! Try reading them!

Sooner or later, you will get stuck, and the manuals and help texts won't help you, either. That's when it's time to consider other sources of information:
- Online Linux users' fora. Some of these can be a little intimidating, but they're too good a resource to miss just because someone might mistake you for a Windows user. If you ask a question and don't at least get an answer pointing you to the source of more information, try another forum. Use an Internet search engine to find suitable fora, perhaps specific to the distribution you are using, and/or in your own language.
- Internet pages. There is a phenomenal amount of information on the Internet about Linux. If you have a problem configuring your printer on Red Hat, for example, try searching in Google for "Red Hat" and "printer configuration".
- Buy a book. There are a lot of good books out there, and probably a few bad ones as well. The real problem is finding the right book. Even if you find a good book, you can easily be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information you don't actually need. A book that delves too deeply into the operating system itself may also be unnecessarily intimidating. The best time to buy a book is when you've settled on a particular distribution, but you don't have hotline support and the manual doesn't give you quite all the information you need. Then, if the distribution is a popular one, consider buying a book covering it.
- Translators' fora. Five years ago, you might just as least have asked in a translators' forum for help on repairing your helicopter. Since then, though, interest in Linux has grown, and if you ask for help - try putting "Linux" in the message header - there's a good chance a more experienced Linux user will see your request and will at least be able to point you towards more detailed information. As I write this, there is to my knowledge only one online forum dedicated to the subject of Linux for translators, and being the one who founded it, I expect you to forgive me for mentioning it. You can find it here.

That's it, folks. Go for it!

© Marc Prior 2003 -
Linux for Translators HOWTO
Author: xxxMarc P
German to English translator 
By xxxMarc P
Published on 08/28/2003

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