on the cheap and sleazy side (www.cheapandsleazy.net)

By G.D. Warner

CAT Wars

What Do You Look For in CAT Software?


In an effort to provide the court reporting community with some sort of way to differentiate one CAT from another, I have asked you (yes, YOU) to contribute an article on why you selected your CAT Software of Choice.

Ultimately, I'd like this series to be THE source people turn to when they are either going to get their first CAT system, or switch from their present software to another ... and in order to do this, I need your help.

Presented on this page are the various things that needs to be covered in the article I have asked you to write for ol' Cheap and Sleazy.

The items listed here have been selected from a rather lenghty thread (35 pages!) on the old NCRA Forum (described below). Not all of these will be important to everybody, but if it was important enough to the one person that suggested it, it may be important enough for 10 other readers of your article ... so that item should be included in your article.

Finally, I hope this isn't too ... overwhelming! Like I said, the original thread grew to 35 pages of suggestions ... and I have whittled those suggestions down to what you see here.

If you get stuck, send me an e-mail! I can probably suggest something for you to try.

I thank you, and your readers will thank you, for your efforts.


It all started with an innocent question on the Depoman forum.

The question was one that gets asked at least once a month on every court reporting forum:

"What software should I get?"

There ensued some strong opinions, and a few verbal fistfights over what software did what better.

This particular discussion prompted me to think that a series of articles written by working reporters explaining why they use the CAT software they use might be a good idea ... so I posted a question on the NCRA Forum and got back a *lot* of answers.

Unfortunately, life intervened, and I had to put the project on hold.

For two four years.

Hold time is over ... and here is the first message in that thread on the NCRA Forum, and what I would like to see in this series of articles ... and yes, I like pictures too.

Date: April 11, 2006 05:17 AM

Author: G.D. Warner (gdwarner (at) mindspring (dot) com)

Subject: CAT Software Selection: What do you Look for?

Hi ...

Over on the forum at www.depoman.com, Sue G.'s search for the Ultimate Answer to the CC vs. Eclipse question has prompted me to post this both here and on the afore-mentioned forum.

As some of you might know, I run a (cheap and sleazy) website aimed at students (see .sig).

As the site has been around for a couple years now, some of those students the site was aimed at originally have graduated (or are getting close to graduation) and have moved out into the Real World(tm) ... which prompts me to consider something radical: A series of articles detailing the pros and cons of all the CAT programs out there ...!

I plan on asking a few users of the various CAT programs to write something up for my website on their CAT software of choice (not trainers or company employees, but real, honest-to-Ghod working reporters).

Ideally, the articles would follow a set format ... hence the subject line.

What do you look for when you are trying to select a CAT system?

Ease of use?

Dictionary maintenance/handling?

User interface ("Look-and-Feel")?


ASCII production?

Export choices?


Personally, if the CAT system I am evaluating cannot import an .rtf dictionary, I simply cannot use it. The Phoenix Theory dictionary weighs in at a hefty 12 MB ... and expecting a customer to stroke all that in in this day and age of RTF/CRE standard file interchange is just plain nuts, IMO.

I also like ease of use -- but these articles are not going to be written by me, so the less I say about my likes and dislikes, the better.

So. You're looking to switch CAT software, or you're buying your very first system, and you come across all these articles on my website. What would you expect these articles to tell you?

What would sway you from one CAT program to another in your search?

As you might imagine, this is a big project I'm undertaking here ... I'm hoping to make it easier with your assistance!

Thanks for your time.

"The Good ... the Cheap ... and the Sleazy --!"

So. That was the post that started it all … and after roughly 35 pages worth of back-and-forth chit-chat between myself and the denizens of the old NCRA forum, this is what these articles should contain:

The Content

As I might have mentioned, this series of articles is to be written by professionals in the field -- preferably not trainers that ONLY train others, but actual reporters/captioners or CART providers.

I am thinking of using the following as a skeleton for the articles I am proposing:


Brief introduction of the author (my name is (blah blah blah), I've been reporting for (blah blah blah) years, etc.)

A brief listing of the CAT software previously used (the more, the better; gives a base for the writer to work from).

The Body

Current CAT software used:

Why this software, and not that (referring, hopefully, to that list of previously used software)?

General Considerations

Vista Windows 7 Windows 8 compatible?

Any conflicts with anti-virus software?

Hardware key required? If so, what is the lost/damaged replacement policy?

Is there a student version available? How much is it? Is there a difference between the full version and the student version (page limit, etc.)?

Hardware/software compatibility: Are there any laptops the software just plain *won't* run on?

Are there USB-Serial adapters that don't work/aren't recommended? Why? What happens? (Stenovations was surprised when I told them I was using their software with a Keyspan USB adapter; it's on their "does not work" list.)

Does it react badly (or vice-versa) with anti-virus software? If so, which software? What happens?

Writer Support: Does the software support that ancient writer your mom used in school?

Deeper ...

Can macros be made and used? Is it easy to do so?

Can you edit from the steno keyboard (including using macros)?

How is the crash recovery (auto-save, backups, etc.)?

How does the software handle conflict resolution?

How is the artificial intelligence, if any?

Are there multiple import/export formats?

Is the ASCII conversion good?

Dictionary handling: Edit in realtime? Add, delete, enable, disable dictionaries while still in realtime? Import from other CAT software?

Migration from other software: Can the software be configured to duplicate the commands/macros/etc. from the previous software?

Audiosync: Split transcript into two files and have audiosync follow suit? Is the audio clear? Is the feature well implemented (i.e., easy to use)?

How gracefully does it handle crashes? Does the audio file survive (i.e., is there a backup of the audio file somewhere?)? Does the transcript survive (i.e., is there a backup of the transcript available somewhere?)?

How easy is it to restore from backups in the event of a crash, as above?

Tech Support

Free? Not?

If not, how much?

Time-restricted? Type (e-mail, phone, web-based, etc.)?

Is support offered for older versions? If so, how far back?

Support contracts ... what happens if the contract expires and your installation disks are damaged/missing?

If support payment has lapsed, is there a cost to renew and upgrade to the latest version?

What about a return policy? Is there one? Is it in writing on their website?


Are the manuals well written? How is the Online Help (in software and/or on the website)? Is it easy to use? Does both the manual and the online help get updated when the software gets updated?


What is available, after you've made your purchase? Are there multiple types of training available (one-on-one, small groups, large groups, self-paced tutorials (how much interactivity vs. how much passive "watch this")? Online training? Remote training?)? Are there CEUs available?


How? Separate program, or possible from within the CAT program itself?


Are there a lot available?

What is the cost of the scopists’ version?

How different is it from the reporter's version?

CAT Dreams

Is there a feature that you've seen in other CAT programs that you would like to see implemented in your CAT software?

Does your CAT software have a feature not matched in any other CAT software? If so, what is it?

In Closing ...

As for ending the piece, perhaps a quick recap of what you feel are the best strengths of your CAT software of choice, and perhaps -- well, I'll leave that section up to the authors!

Hope that's not too overwhelming, but when I asked what people looked for in CAT software, I got a lot of answers, and I managed to boil them down to what you see here.

Also, if you could avoid having it look as though you're answering questions as you write, that would be great!

Finally, a bit about documents.

If you're using Word, please use the .doc format. While the old version of Word I have can convert the new .docx format back to .doc, it does take a disturbingly long time … so please use either .doc or .rtf.

Double-spaced (no line numbers, please!) paragraphs, etc.

Pictures should have a caption, and be in the document (I can copy them and crop them if necessary).

And speaking of pictures … screen shots would be good ... but if necessary, videos are good too (see the Jing Project: http://www.jingproject.com). Ideally, something short to show how to do something in your CAT software to show off that feature no one else has, or is little used, etc.

Other than that, that's it! Thank you for contributing to ol’ Cheap and Sleazy.