Cloud Sync Applications & CATalyst
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With the increase in Cloud based syncing applications like Dropbox, OneDrive, and pCloud, some of our Stenograph customers are using them as a location for their Case CATalyst user. They enjoy the convenience of all their files being exactly the same on every computer they use and not have to worry about backing up to local media to transfer files, or upload to a secure server and then download a file.
While having your data available to you at all times is very convenient, sync applications are not 100% reliable and there is potential for file loss and damage to structures that impact the proper functioning of CATalyst.
To demonstrate this, let’s say a reporter makes a basic user error and accidentally overwrites an edited job by restoring an older, unedited copy of that file. Windows assigns an updated modification date when the file is restored; the sync application sees a file with a newer modification date and sends that unedited file to all of the computers to which it is syncing. The minor error the reporter made by overwriting a file on ONE of their computers has now been duplicated across all of their computers.
It is also possible that no user error is involved in data loss: instead, issues are caused by the sync application not knowing when you’re actively using various CATalyst resources.
CATalyst files aren’t self-contained units: they interact with each other. A document is not merely a text file, it’s linked to many other subfile – steno, global tables, job dictionaries, wordlists, audio, steno x-ray, job history, case history, etc., and as you are working, you are constantly interacting with a variety of files stored in the System Files case, such as Usersettings, UserLayoutPlus, keyboard maps, the steno shortcut table, etc. All of the core files we use while working in CATalyst require correct names and path locations in order to function properly. Popular file sync applications don’t know and don’t necessarily follow CATalyst’s rules. Essentially, the sync app looks at operating system-assigned file dates and times to determine when a file has been modified to begin sharing that updated version with another system. However, they don’t always accurately detect which file is the most recently edited copy of a file, and they may attempt to begin synchronizing while the file is still in use.
Add to this the potential security concerns posed by using consumer-grade vs. business-grade file sync solutions. If the sync application doesn’t encrypt, audit, and control access to shared files, or if the reporter doesn’t use those features to secure the information, they could experience serious consequences as a result of hacked data. Reporters deal with confidential material and the laws regarding a reporter’s personal responsibilities for securing information in a transcript vary from state to state: this is another good reason not to recommend a software that can’t guarantee the safety and security of the user’s files!
Reliability is perhaps the most important factor in transcript production. It’s the reason why Stenograph’s writers have so many redundancies and backups. It’s the reason why we spend so much time carefully testing every software feature to ensure that it does what it is designed to do, and why reported errors are quickly addressed. Reporters need to know that they can meet their commitment to produce the record, and we know they have to be able to rely upon the products and services we provide to them to accomplish that important work.
Stenograph isn't saying you cannot use a sync software, we're advising to not use it as a location for your CATalyst user. You can certainly use the CATalyst Backup feature to back up your files to a sync folder and then restore them from that same sync folder on your other computers. You can also use the sync software as a location for your completed jobs, personal dictionary, layouts, etc. in case you need to restore something later. If you have a CATalyst Cloud Backup account, you can use Cloud Backup to automatically backup your jobs on one computer, then use the Restore Files function to restore the job onto another computer.
Stenograph understands the value that a secure and 100% reliable sync feature would be of great value to our users and it’s something that’s on our product roadmap. However, until we can design, develop, and add a feature that is guaranteed to meet all of a CATalyst user’s needs for file integrity and security, we will continue to recommend that customers refrain from using having a User Root in a location used by file synchronization applications.