Looking for a Quantum replacement? Comparing MERLIN and Quantum

MERLIN and Quantum are both long-established “scripting” programs. Both are part of wider systems covering other aspects of survey processing, and both are used worldwide. To help anyone wanting to replace Quantum, we try, on this page, to compare the two products under the following headings:

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 uses DO loops, 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”) data 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 MERLIN can read data with UTF-8 encoding; currently it will only translate UTF-8 characters with equivalents in the extended character set but, in the next version of MERLIN, it will be possible to process all UTF-8 characters.

Tables in Word, Excel and Acrobat

In addition to 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 Professional).

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 can be read by MTC (MERLIN to Charts) and E-Tabs.

MERLIN text tables can be imported into WINYAPS.

Ongoing support and development

SPSS Inc acquired Quantum in the late 90s, and quickly announced their intention to supersede it with what is now known as IBM SPSS Data Collection. 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 (see MERLIN product page for examples). 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 a suitable replacement for Quantum.

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