Looking for a Quantum replacement – comparing MERLIN and Quantum

MERLIN and Quantum are both long-established “scripting” programs used worldwide. No new features have been added to Quantum for many years however, so it has fallen behind MERLIN in several respects, and MERLIN has come to be recognised as the natural Quantum replacement. MERLIN has the benefit of:

  • Compatibility with current versions of MS Office, producing good-looking results in Word, PDF or Excel formats
  • Importing from and exporting to all leading research software suppliers and applications
  • Continuing excellent support, backup and training
  • Greater people productivity through new features and macros
  • Low cost and easy upgrade path, including importing existing Quantum specs via Triple-S
  • Guaranteed future-proofing

It is simple to replace Quantum with MERLIN to achieve the benefits described. There now follows a detailed comparison of the two programs, focussing on the features that make MERLIN a suitable Quantum replacement:

One language not two

Quantum consists (chiefly) of two programs, each using a different syntax and a different approach. The edit program is procedural: statements are executed sequentially, and act directly on raw data. The tabulation program is declarative: tables are defined in terms of axes, which are declared in terms of raw data. Axes are not preserved between runs, however, so have to be defined whenever they are needed for tabulation.

MERLIN uses one procedural language to define variables from raw data, and tables from variables. Variables and tables may be saved between runs, so it’s unnecessary to re-read (and recode) raw data when producing multiple reports, or to re-increment tables when adding new data, thereby making it both more efficient and less error-prone.

MERLIN also incorporates a powerful macro facility (the “pre-processor”) which enables you to use DO loops in any context, greatly reducing the amount of code needed in scripts. Both programs have facilities to “include” partial script files, using substitutable parameters on each inclusion.


Quantum has strong links with other family members (Quanvert, Quancept etc) – but few to the “outside world”. It cannot read “CSV” or Excel data unless the user converts it by some means to fixed-format ASCII. There are third-party programs which will convert Triple-S metadata descriptions into Quantum scripts and vice-versa, but no self-contained import facilities. There is, however, an export to SPSS.

MERLIN Toolkit is supplied free with MERLIN, and contains import and export facilities for a wide range of formats, including Triple-S, Quantum and SPSS. Both data and metadata are converted, and the user has full control over what is imported/exported.

Data in ASCII, binary, CSV and Excel formats

Like Quantum, MERLIN can read and write both column binary and ASCII fixed-format data using standard encoding. Unlike Quantum, MERLIN supports many “flavours” of column binary, including Quantum and “CBA” formats. Both programs accept multi-line data records, including hierarchical data where the number of lines per record may vary.

Additionally, MERLIN can read and write comma-delimited (“CSV”) and Microsoft Excel data directly – i.e. without first converting them to fixed-format ASCII files. MERLIN recognises characters in the extended ASCII character set – and it can read data with UTF-8 encoding, making it possible to process all UTF-8 characters.

Tables in Word, Excel and Acrobat

In addition to producing ASCII fixed-format text tables as Quantum does, MERLIN can produce tables formatted for Microsoft Office programs.

MTWA (MERLIN to Word/Acrobat) is supplied free with MERLIN, and will create tables in Microsoft Word, using fonts, boxing and logos chosen by the user. The same program can create similar tables in PDF format (without the user needing Adobe Acrobat Pro).

MERLIN can also generate tables in “CSV” or Microsoft Excel format. A macro is used to “beautify” the resulting output (e.g. show percentages in a different colour), and the user may tailor this macro as desired. Excel files can be produced with each table in a separate file, all tables in one worksheet of a file, or each table in a separate worksheet of the same file.

Finally, MERLIN can also produce tables in an XML format known as TabsML which is the most efficient way of exporting them to E-Tabs for charting.

MERLIN text tables can be imported into WINYAPS.

Non-Latin character sets

Unlike Quantum, MERLIN supports non-Latin character sets (such as Chinese and Japanese) in both data and tables, making MERLIN a very advantageous Quantum replacement for companies with this requirement.

Such character sets may be processed in comma-delimited (“CSV”) and Microsoft Excel data files, and used anywhere in the labelling of tables generated in Microsoft Word or Excel, or PDF format.

Ongoing support and development

SPSS Inc acquired Quantum in the late 90s, and quickly announced their intention to supersede it with what became known as IBM SPSS Data Collection, and then Unicom Intelligence. IBM acquired SPSS in 2009, then sold their survey software, including Quantum, on to Unicom in November 2015: however, Quantum is not shown on the product list on Unicom’s website. Quantum is still a “command-line” product, and there is no Windows version.

MERLIN development is still under the direction of one of the two original authors, and there is a continuous stream of new releases with both bug fixes and new features, which are added as a result of user requests. Although many long-term users still run MERLIN through the Windows command-line interface, many have switched to the newer Windows GUI version, and most new users start there.

There are no plans to supersede MERLIN with a new product, or to sell the company or the product to a new owner, so we believe all this makes MERLIN the ideal Quantum replacement.