It used to be that when developers needed something translated, they had to send the translator an Excel file to work with — not exactly convenient. Later, translators began working with CAT (computer-assisted translation) tools, such as Trados or MemoQ, which was a big step forward. To this day, CAT tools remain an ideal option for long-term projects that require a custom setup, but they are still too ponderous and inflexible for Agile projects.
And then LMS/TMS (Localization Management System/Translation Management System) tools appeared on the scene. Unlike desktop-only CAT tools, these localization platforms do all their work in the cloud and are extremely flexible. The advantages this presents for both devs and localization agencies are self-evident.
With the many LMS/TMS tools available these days, it can be really hard to choose just one solution for your project. In this article we compare such popular localization platforms as Crowdin, Lokalise, SmartCAT, Phrase, Transifex and POEditor and weigh the pros and cons of each.
The benefits of LMS systems
Before getting down to the actual comparison, first let’s consider the main benefits of LMS tools and why they are considered the best choice in most cases. Now, we’re not saying that you can’t use a CAT tool and should use localization platforms exclusively. But CAT tools are very cumbersome and are not at all adaptable for Agile projects. This is the primary reason why most of our clients prefer to work with LMS tools such as Crowdin or Lokalise, to name a few. Now, on to the benefits of LMS tools.
Support for numerous file formats
LMS tools support nearly all file formats, including standard Word and Excel files and more specific ones such as .MQXLIFF (a cross-platform .XML that is generated when downloading a file from MemoQ). Note that file types like .MQXLIFF are considered highly specialized and not all LMS tools can read them.
Great for continuous localization
We’ve already discussed what continuous localization is and why it’s awesome in this article. A quick recap: continuous localization is ongoing localization using Agile methodology that supports editing on the go and real-time changes (which would be impossible with CAT systems, for example).
All this means that a cloud platform like Crowdin is perfect for continuous localization due to its “cloud” nature and functionality. Here are some of the most useful features of LMS tools for continuous localization:
- Adding changes to strings: LMS tools have an “update” function that automates content updates, meaning that translators see only the new, untranslated strings. An LMS tool can also automatically synchronize the updated file with previous translations by deleting or adding strings.
- Automation: You can set up your LMS tool to automatically upload new strings to the project and pull them back to the platform.
- Instant editing: LMS tools allow for instant editing so you can instantly fix anything in the ongoing project. In addition, you can comment on strings and also use comments as an issue tracker.
- Different collaboration options: depending on their level of access, users can collaborate on a project simultaneously: add new translators, approve strings, resolve issues, etc.
- Translation memory and glossary: facilitates homogenous translation and unified terminology.
These are just a few of the features that make LMS systems so remarkably suited to Agile projects. But compatibility with Agile methodology is just one advantage of LMS systems. Another is their numerous options for integration.
Numerous integration options
For better efficiency, most LMS tools are compatible with multiple third-party services such as GitHub, HubSpot, Zendesk, Android, Jira, Azure Repos, and many others. Thanks to seamless integration, content can be automatically transferred from one system to another, thus saving considerable time by eliminating the need to retrieve it manually.
Automated QA checks
LMS tools reduce the number of manual QA checks thanks to automated QA. That means an LMS tool such as Crowdin or Lokalise is capable of automatically checking for glossary mismatches, spelling, placeholder availability, and critical errors. Also, Crowdin Enterprise offers the sweet option of creating custom QA checks using a JS framework.
Advanced project statistics
One more valuable feature of an efficient localization platform is advanced project statistics and reports. This feature is really useful for ensuring project transparency, as it allows clients to monitor the project’s progress (work carried out within a given date range, stats for specific files only, TM fuzzy matches, etc.).
This video shows how the localization process takes place on localization platforms:
LMS tools: a comparison table
Now that we’ve covered the main benefits of LMS tools, let’s compare them and go over the pros and cons of each. The table below covers the most popular tools and their distinctive features.
Good news: one of the platforms, Crowdin, is completely free for open-source projects!
As you can see, every platform has a certain number of available integrations. For example, a localization platform can be integrated with third-party services such as GitHub, iOS and Android SDK, Figma, Slack, Jira, and Asana.
What’s great about these integrations is that you can set up automatic content uploads/downloads directly to a third-party system. Below are links to detailed lists of integrations for each localization platform:
- Crowdin: 70+ integrations;
- Lokalise: 40+ integrations;
- SmartCAT: 20+ integrations;
- Phrase: 20+ integrations;
- Transifex: 20+ integrations;
- POEditor: 10+ integrations.
The same goes for supported file formats. Since each platform supports an extensive list of formats, we recommend checking out the links below to learn whether a platform supports the formats you need:
- Crowdin: 60+ file formats supported;
- Lokalise: 30+ file formats supported;
- SmartCAT: 60+ file formats supported;
- Phrase: 40+ file formats supported;
- Transifex: 30+ file formats supported;
- POEditor: 20+ file formats supported.
Now let’s break down each feature from the table to see where each platform stands in terms of usability and performance.
UI usability refers to a platform’s ease of use and user-friendliness. Of all the options listed above, users report that Crowdin is the most convenient and user-friendly. It has an intuitive, well-optimized UI, with minimal steps for every action to prevent confusion. This is especially useful for those encountering localization for the first time, who need time to familiarize themselves with the process.
Lokalise is next in line after Crowdin. While its UI is mostly intuitive and understandable, users tend to stumble a bit. But Lokalise does have the advantage of far more advanced admin access settings than Crowdin. As for other platforms, their UIs are generally about average.
Each platform has certain valuable features that other platforms are missing. SmartCAT, for instance, allows users to complete financial transactions right within the platform without leaving it — an option not available on other localization platforms.
Lokalise has its own highly valuable feature: it can automatically recognize screenshot text that is added to strings and link the screenshots to the keys. This means they are immediately displayed in the editor, which is very useful for platform users.
Commenting on strings
The option to comment on strings is extremely valuable, as it allows translators and other team members to clarify the context of the text, ask questions, and interact with each other. While every localization platform has the option to add comments to strings, Crowdin takes it one step further by allowing users to use comments as issue trackers. That means a user can add either issue or resolved status to a comment, which helps facilitate project monitoring.
In this way, every string has its own thread (or chat) where you can tag people (developers, translators), leave replies, and clarify any issues. Using this feature, Crowdin immediately lets you know which areas require your attention. Plus, you can instantly find the required string by typing issue in the dashboard search.
Activity log and statistics
Most LMS tools typically have a dashboard with a status bar displaying the project status, percentage of translated text, etc. Crowdin, however, has a full-fledged activity log that displays both major stats (% of completed translation, for example) and minor stats (such as what comments were added, by whom, and who approved them).
Pre-processing of spreadsheets and .XML files
Pre-processing, as the name implies, means file processing before a localization platform starts working with them. If you upload a file in table (.XLSX or .CVS) or .XML format to Crowdin, the platform allows you to set up the structure and/or configuration of your files so that Crowdin correctly uploads the content for translation.
Lokalise also has advanced pre-processing settings. While uploading your files, you can select the necessary pre-processing options, such as: convert placeholders, detect ICU plurals, or fill empty values with keys. The native CLI or GitHub integration can also be used for file upload.
If we look at another LMS tool, SmartCAT also offers a good selection of pre-processing settings. The user is presented with different configuration options depending on the file format. The most popular formats supported by SmartCAT are Excel, .XLIFF, .XML, .PDF, and Word.
Real-time in-app editing
Live editing is an invaluable feature that allows translators to translate text in real time directly within the web application UI. It lets you instantly see what the translated file will look like and whether the text needs to be adjusted.
This feature is found in the Crowdin, Lokalise, and Transifex platforms. Let’s examine Crowdin first. In Crowdin, this feature is called the In-Context tool: as stated above, it lets you view and translate files directly within the web app. The In-Context localization is linked to the Crowdin project where the files are stored so that everything works in sync. This feature can be used to edit all text of an app and even to translate strings with placeholders.
In Lokalise, this feature is called LiveEdit and it lets you translate text both in web and mobile applications in real time. So while it’s similar to Crowdin’s In-Context editor, it takes it one step further by supporting translation of mobile app content as well.
Finally, there is Transifex with its Transifex Live feature. When using it, you will see a small sidebar on top of the website, which you can use to manage your translations in real time. While Transifex Live works slightly differently from Lokalise Live Edit and Crowdin In-Context, it also helps facilitate translation in real time.
Small translation tasks: what platform to choose?
As you can see from their rich functionality, the above-mentioned LMS tools are great for big, complex localization projects. But what do you do if you just need to translate a small amount of text (under 1000 words, for example, or just a handful of strings)?
This is where lightweight, stripped-down translation platforms come into play, such as Nitro . Nitro is a self-service platform that supports multiple languages, in plain text format only (translations can however be exported to a single Google Sheets file).
The platform has a clean, simple UI designed for swift execution of short translations. The way it works is simple: you insert your plain text (displayed in segments), check off the languages into which you want it translated, pay within the platform, and submit your order for translation. Most orders are ready within 24 hours, while many are completed far sooner.
Nitro’s features include options for providing context, communicating with translators, and adding questions and comments. A number of Alconost’s clients prefer to use Crowdin for handling large translations and Nitro for small ones.
When choosing a localization platform, the first thing to consider is the scope of your project and what it will require. For long-term and complex projects we highly recommend Crowdin or Lokalise, as these two tools have the most advanced feature sets, extensive integration and file format support. Moreover, Crowdin allows for an intuitive and friendly UI.
Between the two, our favorite is Crowdin due to its advanced functionality and the number of options available. But the Alconost team also works with Lokalise, SmartCAT, and other platforms.
If you need advice on choosing the best platform for your specific needs or if you don’t know where to start, just contact us! We will gladly go over all the pros and cons with you and help you pick the solution best suited to your project.