In order to use Linux for translation,
you need four things:
- suitable hardware;
- a Linux
other programs not included in the distribution;
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
Linux from a CD
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.
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:
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
- 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.
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.
Do it! Distributions can be obtained so
cheaply, by broadband download or from resellers, that it is worth
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
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.
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 OpenOffice.org (office suite), OmegaT or the
Araya Suite (translation memory), and Mozilla, Netscape Communicator
and Opera (web browsers).
- OpenOffice.org. 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 OpenOffice.org. Textmaker is commercial software
(albeit very inexpensive), so don't expect to find it packaged with a
- Abiword. A lightweight word processor,
interesting if you are trying to run Linux on old and/or slow
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.
- 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:
Wordfisher, Sprint. A great many translators use Wordfast, and
growing numbers are now using it on Linux in conjunction with
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
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 is becoming increasingly popular for small utilities, so is well
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
- Netscape Communicator (free)
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 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
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
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