For many years, there have been frequent, unnecessary misunderstandings between outsourcers and translators regarding the tools necessary to translate jobs for which particular data formats are required. With the current exception of most server-based projects, it is very seldom true that translations must be done with the same tools used to prepare the data for translation or manage the translated data resources.
In other words if you as a translator work with an agency or a direct client who uses a common tool such as a current or older version of SDL Trados, WordFast, memoQ or most other professional tools, it is possible to translate the data safely in the format your customer desires even if you use a different translation environment or in some cases none at all. This post focuses on satisfying the requirements for "Trados jobs", due to the widespread use of this tool in various version over the past two decades among corporate clients and translation agencies.
There are many tools which claim to be "compatible" with Trados but which are in fact not to a full extent. Or which are not unless the right techniques are used to prepare and exchange the data. This is not difficult, but it does require attention to detail and proper methods for the specific case involved.
The latest versions of SDL Trados (SDL Trados Studio 2009 and 2011) use an underlying data format which is a version of the XLIFF standard, for which SDL uses its own extension (SDLXLIFF) rather than the usual *.xlf extension. However, SDLXLIFF can be processed by tool capable of working correctly with XLIFF, which includes the later versions of Atril's DVX and the current DVX2 as well as Kilgray's memoQ, the Open Source tool OmegaT (be careful - tags must be checked carefully and possibly repaired afterward!) and many others. If you are using a tool other than a version of Trados and your customer requires full compatibility with SDL Trados Studio 2009 or SDL Trados Studio 2011, request the files to translate in SDLXLIFF format. Then import these into your working environment using an XLIFF filter. Your deliverable file will be the translated SDLXLIFF upon export from your translation tool. Please note that you cannot generate a target file ("cleaned file") from environments other than SDL Trados Studio if you are working with SDLXLIFF files. Your customer with SDL Trados Studio must do that.
Some other environments, such as Trados TagEditor (a tool in older versions of Trados) cannot successfully process an XLIFF file unless the source text is copied to the target segments. Thus, for example, if you plan to translate an SDLXLIFF file using TagEditor in SDL Trados 2007, you must ensure that the source has been copied to the target text, because the INI supplied for XLF files in the old version of Trados only reads the tags for the target segments. The TagEditor INI also requires updating to work with some of the new tag structures. Such a procedure is not necessary in a tool like Kilgray's memoQ, however, because it can access both the source and target tags of the SDLXLIFF (XLIFF) file.
If your client works with an older version of Trados and wants your translation data in an older Trados data format such as TTX or an "uncleaned" bilingual RTF or MS Word document, this is also possible to do safely, with 100% compatibility guaranteed, if the right procedures are applied. The best method to follow, even if you are working with a "Trados-compatible" tool such as WordFast, is to have the working files created and "presegmented" with the desired version of Trados. If you do not have that version, this is a task for your customer to prepare the files and ensure compatibility.
Presegmentation is a form of pretranslation, which might copy the entire source text to target segments or also insert fuzzy matches where they exist in the client's translation memory. This technique ensures that the segmentation rules followed are those set in the client's environment and that "maximum leverage" (best use) of the client's translation memory is achieved. A very detailed description of the methods necessary has been published here on the Translation Tribulations blog. The gist of it is that the "presegmentation" is to be done using Trados Workbench on the RTF, Microsoft Word, TTX or other files (which are then converted to TTX) with the unknown sentences being segmented and the selection in the translation memory options to copy the source text to the target on no match.
Understanding procedures like these is important to working together successfully and focusing on what is most important: achieving the best translation quality without technical compromises that cause lost time and money. Translators should be able to work in the environments they find most productive while still ensuring that the content delivered does not cause technical difficulties for their clients. As described here, it is entirely possible to translate and deliver files without technical difficulties for clients who "require Trados" even if you do not use Trados yourself.