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With so many reporters trading in their prehistoric computers for newer models, the wide range of available options can present some pretty tricky decisions for the uninformed. Gone are the days of the one-trick pony, the simple monitor-keyboard-and-floppy PC.
With all these decisions to make, how do you identify the best backup solution for your needs? First step would be to determine your needs: Are you looking for long-term archiving or merely something to keep your files on as you transfer them between two different computers?
Even though it’s getting increasingly rare to find computers (desktop or laptop) that come with built-in floppy drives, external USB floppy drives are fairly easy to hook up and use.
Pros: Floppy drives are relatively inexpensive (about $30), and the disks are fairly cheap as well (a pack of 10 generally goes for about $3). A floppy drive will also allow you to import steno notes from a floppy if you have that sort of writer. Additionally, floppy drive access is still pretty widespread, so it is a good medium for transferring files to others (e.g. scopists, attorneys). Finally, if you have your old backups on floppy disk, obtaining a floppy drive will simplify digging old transcripts and notes out of the archives.
Cons: Very small capacity (you may have trouble getting a large transcript on a floppy, and forget about trying to stick a sound file on there). Floppy disks also have a tendency to go bad. If not stored properly, they can fail and the data on them will be lost.
Known as writable or “burnable” CDs, CD-R and CD-RW drives are increasingly standard equipment on new computers. If your computer does not have one already, an internal CD-RW drive can be found for as low as $30, but installation is a bit involved and will probably require a specialist. External USB drives are available as well, usually in the $80+ price range.
Pros: CD-R media is among the cheapest available: a spindle of blanks can be less than $0.25 per disk. (CD-RW disks are more expensive, $1 or more per disk.) They have a large storage capacity (700MB — sufficient for hundreds of transcripts as well as large audio files). When properly stored to prevent damage to the disks (especially scratches), CDs can last upwards of 10 years.
Cons: CD-R disks are only writable once, and typically need to be set up with all the contents and written all at once. (CD-RW disks are capable or being written more than once — “RW” stands for “rewritable” — but often this entails wiping the entire disk clean between each use.) Older CD-ROM drives may be unable to read CD-R media, and even fewer drives are capable of reading CD-RW disks. Also, writing files to CD-Rs generally requires special software (though the software will come with the drive, or pre-installed on your PC if it came with a CD-R drive). Windows XP has built-in CD writing capabilities, but it is still a different process than copying files to most other media. “Spindle” disks do not come with cases, so you will require something like a CD book or separately purchased jewel cases to keep your disks safe after burning; blank CDs can also be purchased with jewel cases, but at an added cost.
USB Flash Drive
Also known as “thumb drives,” “jump drives,” or “pen drives.”
Pros: Among the easiest of all portable storage solutions, you can use them on any computer with a USB port, and on computers with Windows 2000 or XP, they should not require any more effort than simply plugging in the drive.
Cons: While tremendously useful for short-term (“working”) backups and transfer of files between two different computers, their high price makes them completely unsuitable for a long-term backup solution (prices range from $10 for 16MB drives to $200+ for 2GB drives and up).
ZIP drives: ZIP drives offer more storage capacity then floppy drives, while retaining a floppy-like simplicity; however, they’re expensive (nearly $100 for a drive, and 100MB disks are around $10 each) and not very commonplace (and therefore not very useful for giving files to someone else). Internet: Many online backup services exist (http://www.connected.com/, for one); they typically charge a yearly or monthly subscription fee. Most will run automatically after an initial setup (assuming a constant connection to the Internet). There are also services such as T3 (http://www.totaltranscripttransfer.com/) designed specifically to facilitate transfer of transcripts and large audio files between reporters and scopists over the Internet.
Oren Harroche is Cheetah International’s director of product development for SmartCAT: TurboCAT for Windows. He can be reached at email@example.com.