SDL OpenExchange: a rant and a rave

SDL OpenExchangeI’ve been meaning to write a post about the SDL OpenExchange since I published a comparison on Studio 2014/memoQ 2014 a few months ago. I didn’t mention the OpenExchange in that post, mainly because I’ve got mixed feelings about it.

OpenExchange Store

The OpenExchange was set up in 2010. It started with a small number of plug-ins and apps that extended the functionality of SDL Trados Studio and it has grown exponentially over the last four years. Now there are more than 120 apps at the online store with a wide range of functions. For example, they:

  • automate tasks
  • process lesser-known file types
  • access third-party resources
  • convert and manage translation memories and termbases
  • enhance and tweak SDL features
  • improve interoperability with other CAT tools

Under the hood

But all this just scratches the surface of the OpenExchange. Third-party developers can access the Software Development Kit (SDK) and use different Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to create their own apps, which they can then publish on the OpenExchange or use in their own setting.

So, an LSP can set up its own project management system and a verifier with tailor-made settings. A multinational can create a customised machine translation provider and call up domain-specific corpora. A software company can develop its own file type for Studio so that its translators can work with the native file format without having to extract the text and process it in more complex ways.

I recently came across an example of how one company has put this to good use. In his blog, Sébastien Desautel explained how they used the SDL SDK to create an sgm file type for GRIPS data, a content management system, to process these files in Studio. That’s cool.

OpenExchange for freelance translators

Back to your common-or-garden freelance translator. Does the OpenExchange give you good value for money? Well, the answer is yes, of course, because most OpenExchange apps are actually free (in fact, access to the developer partner community is also free). All you need is a Studio license. There are lots of ready-made apps for you to pick and choose from. The OpenExchange makes your Studio experience unique.

Why the mixed feelings?

I have some reservations about OpenExchange apps:

1. Some apps should be built into Studio

I think some apps should be available out of the box in Studio. Most users would benefit from having immediate access to termbase creation within Studio; simultaneous searches in source and target segments; standalone apps accessible from a customisable menu in Studio.

Of course, there has to be a balance between offering essential features and overwhelming new users with a sea of options. Keeping things basic makes sure that Studio runs fast, too. Some apps that are great for me (adding symbols with a handy shortcut) won’t be used by others at all, and vice versa (I don’t need SDL Studio InQuote, but I’m sure it’s very handy for some people).

“Export for External Review” and “Batch Find and Replace” are two apps that SDL brought into Studio several years ago, so you don’t have to go to the Store and download them. I hope other apps will follow.

2. Some apps need clearer instructions

I’d like to see clearer set-up instructions for apps in the OpenExchange store. It would be helpful to know:

a) whether it’s a standalone app or a plug-in
b) which file I should click on to install it
c) where it will appear (on my desktop, in the Studio ribbon, with a right-click somewhere…)
d) where the help file is (in the downloaded files, in the app itself).

Most apps are straightforward to use, but this extra information before you download an app would be helpful for less-experienced Studio users.

3. Batch app processing is slow

Downloading and installing a single app is pretty fast, but doing the same for a number of apps at the same time takes a long time.

I moved to a new work machine earlier this year and getting all my OpenExchange apps up and running again was time consuming. Freelancers with a plus license who run Studio on two computers have to install apps twice. Hard disk re-formatting also means spending most of a morning at the OpenExchange store.

It would be nice if SDL came up with a solution for a more seamless process. Would it be possible to create an app that makes an image of your current Studio set-up, apps and all? Or could there be a way to select several apps in the Store and download/install them all at once?

Rant over. Now for my current top 3

Here are the three OpenExchange apps that I use most at the moment. It’s interesting, because I wrote a post just over a year ago about three apps that I found useful back then, and they’re quite different from my current list:

  1. ApSIC Xbench Plugin. The Xbench plugin is very useful for performing extra QA on a translation and clicking back to Studio to correct the errors. I also like its spellchecker feature because you can browse through possible errors in a list. Searching project resources (TMs, TBs, SDLXLIFFs) is fast and powerful.
  2. TermInjector. This plugin is installed as a TM provider but it actually checks for results using a set of customised rules in your chosen TM. This improves the match that is found. I started using it recently to automatically translate days and months in my source language that weren’t written in the correct date format. TermInjector replaces terms by applying exact matches and regex rules.
  3. SDL Trados Studio Bookmarks. This takes you to the last segment you translated, to the last accessed segment when you re-open a file, or to a custom bookmark that you can add yourself. Simple and effective.

What do you think about the OpenExchange? And which are your favourite apps?

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15 Responses to SDL OpenExchange: a rant and a rave

  1. Mats Linder says:

    Hi Emma!
    Great posting! I agree with practically everything, and like you I’m a bit surprised that not more of the most useful apps haven’t been included in Studio — particularly those which are developed by the SDL people themselves! I also agree with what you say about some apps needing clearer instructions, and I shall try to think of that when I write about them in my manual.
    That said, I have to add that I think that OpenExchange is one of the best things about Studio. More’s the pity that the presentation on the OE home page leaves a lot to be desired. In order to rectify that to some degree, I would recommend taking a look at the sortable list I provide at the site of my manual — here:

    • Thanks for your comment, Mats.
      Your sortable list is very useful.
      It would be neat to have that feature at the OpenExchange store itself. I’d also like to see fuzzy returns in the app search box because sometimes I can’t remember what an app is called, or I spell it incorrectly.
      And I agree that OpenExchange is one of the best things about Studio. It has huge potential.

  2. paulfilkin says:

    Hi Mats,

    Just on this part… “particularly those which are developed by the SDL people themselves! “. Just because they’ve been developed by SDL people doesn’t mean we have the right to use them in the code. Most are written in their own time for fun, but they still want ownership of them.

    However, where appropriate and if the SDL guys agree then we might bring them into the core code in the future… who knows!

    The most important thing is that you can download them and use them if you find them useful. In fact this is also a good indicator for us whether it’s even worth spending development time to make an app a permanent feature in the core product.

    Which ones would you like to see in the core product?



  3. Jesse says:

    What do you think about the OpenExchange?
    Basically its a huge step toward solving the “last mile” problem. As mentioned, anyone (corporation, LSP, freelancer, etc.) with a freelancer/professional license can develop there own customized tools tailored for there needs. This is a huge advantage over any other tool.

    However, it is not without its problems, to your “reservations” section I would add:
    Adding plug-ins/extensions to Trados Studio creates more bugs. Trados is already a buggy software and increasing the number of error messages/crashes leads to more headaches. Now this isn’t inherit to OpenExchange itself, but if Trados doesn’t fix their bugs*, people will avoid using these apps.
    * I’m putting most of the blame here one Trados for these bugs, but of course the plug-in/extension developers might also be at fault.

    And which are your favourite apps?
    By far the new MSWord Grammar Checker. It can pick up a lot of errors that no other software can. This also could be included in “should be built-in functionality”, but my guess is SDL avoided adding it due to how slow it is interoping with Word.

    • Hi Jesse,

      You’re right that plug-ins can come with bugs. TermInjector is in my favourites’ list, but it does throw error messages that can only be sorted by restarting Studio. I’ve learnt how to avoid them, but I agree that these bugs need to be ironed out by the app developers themselves. Most apps, however, are quite simple and don’t slow Studio down or make it crash.

      I wouldn’t label Studio as “buggy software”. It’s a complex program that has occasional blips, but for the last 2 or 3 years I haven’t had any major problems. I’d say that MS Word crashes on me far more often. Could MS be to blame for the slowness that you report in the Grammar Checker app, I wonder?

      Thanks for contributing to the discussion,

      • I fully agree with Emma. We’ve been using Studio since it launched and have never had any real work stopping bugs. Every software on the market has it’s problems, but there are often workarounds available.

        I love OpenExchange not just because of the great Apps available, but also that I can program my own tools that use the SDL APIs or simply integrate some new functionality right in the SDL tools. We recently developed an new tab in Studio that calculate the cost of a project based on user-definable prices. Works a treat and is fully integrated.

        As I freelancer I’d probably want to have Studio TimeTracker running when it’s not possible to invoice at a word or line rate. Works great.


        • Jesse says:

          I’m sure everyone has different experiences with Trados, so it will be difficult to convince people that it is “buggy software”. However, as a simple example, open up the “Translation Results”, “Concordance Search” or “Edit Translation Unit” window, go to the very end of the last segment and hit the right arrow key. While this is not a “work stopper” bug, the developers didn’t account for someone trying to go past the end of the last item. This is a very common case that should of been accounted for. Also, as mentioned above, everyone has different experiences based on how they use the Product. I happen to get 10 to 20 error messages per day, and Trados crashes on average 2 or 3 times per week.

  4. The OX platform, like any other app platform, has a great potential, but it also comes with some challenges. Some of the challenges could be managed, but others – like the increased risk of instability, accompanies security issues, fragmentation and even discontinued apps, and so forth – are inherent to the structure of those platform and there is no magic solution for them.

    By moving to this type of extendability, SDL offers great value, but it comes with responsibility. Although many apps are developed by third-parties (and many others are developed internally by users and not even featured on the OX website), SDL is still responsible to the platform as a whole. So, I agree with you Emma that the OX platform still needs to mature considerably.
    I think that soon enough some kind of management center will be needed. Ideally it would enable the user to install, update, and uninstall OX apps directly from withing studio. There is a need to standardized the “packaging” of the apps – their description on the website, the accompanied readme or other instructional document are two very good example to steps that I think need to be taken.
    I also think that SDL should periodically examine the market to assess what apps have become an almost integral part of using Studio (the Glossary converter and plugin come to mind as a good example) and do the best it can to do good by the developer(s) and the users by incorporating them into Studio. This will allow better control, hopefully optimization, and will make sure that they will not get discontinued almost over-night (always a risk).

    Thank you for this article, Emma.

    • Thanks for your comment, Shai.
      Yes, a management centre to install, update, and uninstall apps directly in Studio would be very convenient, and make OpenExchange apps more visible to users who aren’t familiar with them.

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  6. Thanks for an interesting article, Emma! Good timing also – I’m just finalizing my presentation on OpenExchange apps for next week’s ATA Conference:

    My favorites change too, except that GlossaryConverter is still #1. The others are AnyTM, MyMemory, Apply Studio Project Template and PackageReader. Very useful features for me.

    You are absolutely right that some of the apps need better instructions and that there should be some kind of a batch installation tool to make it faster to install several apps at the same time.


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