Translation and hardware

Think about hardware you use to translate, and what comes to your mind? If you’re a more experienced translator, you may think of a piece of paper and pen. The rest of us will immediately visualise our computers. But translation hardware actually started much, much earlier, somewhere in the age of clay or stone tablets and styluses. Can you imagine translating on papyrus? In most of its history, translation used rather heavy and clumsy hardware. Only recently we have been blessed with technology and hardware as we know it. So, what do translators use to work?

Personal Computers

First translators that moved from pen and paper must have entered a whole new universe of possibilities! PCs revolutionised translation hardware and changed the world of translation. Translators were finally able to edit their work before printing it, they could store files and re-use them, they could copy and paste! Not to mention having a keyboard, and a screen…

Drawbacks? Translators had to translate more in the same amount of time, because they were simply able to type faster and they were more productive. Translation was more accessible, and that’s when rates started dropping. The wide availability of resources such as digital dictionaries lowered barriers to entry to this once elitist profession.


The emergence of laptops was another milestone for the translation industry. Translators have always praised their occupation for the flexibility it provided, but with laptops you could translate anywhere. You could take your work to your garden, on a train, or even on holidays.

Drawbacks? Clients started thinking that translators are available 24 hours per day. Deadlines became tighter, and translation started to be something you could do on your way to your real work.

Windows and Apples

Translators are on friendly terms with technology, as for a usual person they seem to be almost as geeky as programmers or Google staff. A tech-savvy translator makes conscious choices regarding hardware and software used. It is not uncommon to see discussions whether to buy an Apple Mac and why, or to buy a Windows-based machine. Pick and choose!

Drawbacks? Apart from the spoiled for choice syndrome, translators may experience issues of compatibility they haven’t been aware of. Not all applications or CAT tools are compatible with Macs, and traditional computers don’t always have all functions that Mac users get.

Tablets and mobile wonders

Tablets are storming the world of entertainment, but will they prove to be useful for translators? They may be a bit unhandy while you have to use the touch screen, but detachable keyboards work wonders. Still, tablets are not as functional as laptops, and why one would make life harder trying to work on a smaller screen?

Drawbacks? Tablets definitely don’t have the functionality of traditional PCs or laptops. Word processing applications are rather limited, not to mention a screen way too small to proofread.

Updating the tools

Another crucial issue in translation hardware is the problem of updating, or buying new units. How long can one workstation last without a real danger of collapsing in the middle of a project? When updates are necessary? On average, laptops and PCs become less operational by the end of their third year. Most of tech-savvy people plan updates and upgrades then, leaving their old units as a back-up system. But is it the same for translators? In the end, we don’t need anything else than CAT tools, word processing software, and internet browsers.

Perfect office

Any translator needs at least one computer. But we’re wondering here in our office what hardware do you have and use on a daily basis. How does your perfect IT system look like? How many devices do you have?

Written by Marta

A Polish English translator and interpreter, she helps freelance translators kick off their careers and she also assists companies in growing their translation businesses. Visit her at


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