Phil Hearn: Blogger, Writer & Founder of MRDC Software Ltd.

How easy is it to switch from Quantum to MRDCL?

I have always admired Quantum as a market research analysis program. It is still powerful enough to process most survey tabulations, but its position has unsurprisingly slipped after 25 years without development. The problem is that Quantum is not built for modern data processing. Whilst still functionally strong, no developments have been implemented to meet modern data processing needs. The alternatives are few, with MRDCL, Merlin and Uncle being the main choices.

The necessity of reading Excel workbooks

Quantum’s lack of development means it cannot read everyday tools like Excel workbooks. So much information is conveyed in workbooks – brand lists, non-survey data, coded data, lookups, code lists etc. – it’s a necessity, in our view, that tabulation software can read Excel workbooks without having to paste the lists into text files. Merlin and Uncle have more surprsingly not added such essential tools.

Increasing evidence of a move from Quantum

Our sales team is experiencing a rapid increase in the number of enquiries about switching from Quantum to MRDCL. Admittedly, this is fifteen years later than I would have expected! It’s no wonder, as online surveys need modern automation tools, flexibility in reading different data formats and the ability to build systems or solutions around a powerful survey analysis tool.

Switching from any serious software system in any business is not trivial. Legacy systems mean that caution is needed, and there is a natural temptation to postpone the day when change takes place because there will be some hardship. The three key questions are: –

  • How hard is it to convert long-term Quantum projects?
  • How compatible is my data with the new system?
  • How long will it take for staff to be proficient in the new system?

Transferring projects from Quantum to MRDCL

Using SPSS as an intermediary


There are tools readily available to export Quantum projects to SPSS. This is an easy, reliable process. MRDCL Central has been developed to automate the process of reading an SPSS file and automatically generating an MRDCL script for all the Quantum variables. There are four fantastic features of MRDCL Central’s Intelligent Import tools. These are:

  • Data is automatically converted (although it is not mandatory) to a more MRDCL-friendly format.
  • The generated MRDCL code can be standard script or advanced script – standard script will be easier to understand, but advanced script will use efficient MRDCL tools to make it easier to edit and manage in the future. We always recommend the advanced script option.
  • The conversion process allows you to set certain controls that are preserved so you can easily rerun the process with adjustments if required.
  • The process automatically generates a crosstab for each variable, producing consistent results with the Quantum data.


Using Triple-S as an intermediary

A free Quantum to Triple-S conversion program is available on the Triple-S website using this link – This allows you to convert a project to Triple-S and use MRDCL Central to import the project. MRDCL’s unique design means you can read old data, Quantum variables in this case, alongside new data, which may be in a different format. The advantage of this approach is that you can export Quantum variables precisely as they are without worrying about complex logic, data recoding or any other programmatic data manipulation.

Compatibility of Quantum data in MRDCL

If you decide not to convert via SPSS or Triple-S, you can use raw Quantum data within MRDCL. Quantum supports its own binary data format as well as reading ASCII data. If you want to read raw data from Quantum, you only need to give the files the required file extension, as MRDCL recognises file types by their file extension (it detects most errors if you use the wrong file extension). The disadvantage of using the raw data is that any complex logic will need to be transferred to the MRDCL script, but this may not be a significant consideration for many projects.

File naming conventions

Quantum binary data needs a .cbe file extension, and ASCII data needs a .asc file extension. Other than that, the data files used with Quantum can be used without changes. Strictly, MRDCL will treat any unrecognised file type as ASCII, but it will ask you to confirm that it is ASCII each time you run with the data file, so it is better to rename it with a .asc file extension.

The time staff take to convert from Quantum to MRDCL

Anyone who can master Quantum can master MRDCL. They are two scripting languages with many tools for dealing with more or less any market research data and tabulation needs. The most important attributes are understanding what is needed and the disciplines of being a good market research analyst.

The real questions

However, there are really two parts that you should consider when staff convert from Quantum to MRDCL.

  • How long will it take to become competent in using MRDCL?
  • How long will it take to make the most of MRDCL? These are different questions.

The practicalities

To answer the first question, it shouldn’t take long. There will be a brief frustrating period when someone converting to MRDCL will make minor errors due to the specific syntax of MRDCL, but regular use soon brings familiarisation. It’s the second part of the question that is arguably more important. I make this point because I have seen some ex-Quantum users try to use MRDCL with the same approaches as they would use in Quantum. This might work to get started, but it misses the productivity benefits that MRDCL offers. Quantum was developed in an age when productivity was less of an issue, whereas MRDCL has been designed with a focus on productivity and automation.

Make use of MRDCL’s power features

Let’s say, for example, that MRDCL has 50 better ways of doing things than Quantum, and Quantum has 10 better ways of doing things than MRDCL. I don’t believe an outdated program like Quantum has better tools, but let’s go with this for the sake of this argument. It can mean that someone who does not explore more advanced and modern or different approaches offered by MRDCL will just see negatives. It’s crucial to embrace the modern features that a product with almost 25 years of extra developments, responding to user demands, can offer. MRDCL users switching from Quantum should rightly expect to find some significant productivity gains.

Improved teamwork/cost reductions

One of the main but less apparent benefits of MRDCL is that it enables teamwork and project sharing. 25 years ago, MRDCL was quite similar to Quantum. It frustrated me to see highly skilled data processing staff spend much of their time entering simple script. MRDCL’s modern approach means that templates can be built; this allows less qualified staff or colleagues to share the workload of handling a project. Costs are reduced substantially as less skilled staff can handle the more straightforward tasks within a project, leaving the higher-paid, experienced staff to spend most of their time doing skilled work. It can mean a change of approach within an organisation but one that offers sound financial benefits.

In summary

For more straightforward ad hoc projects, switching to MRDCL will be easy. Learning the best approaches in MRDCL will be highly beneficial for more complex projects. In general, MRDCL offers more solutions than Quantum, meaning learning to pick the right approach rather than the most obvious one can be important. Our comprehensive video tutorial library with downloadable examples helps users discover the most advantageous techniques. The biggest problem is moving large multi-country or tracking studies where there is complex logic in place. We have always been happy to advise on the best approach for such projects, as MRDCL’s flexibility offers many potential routes.

Don’t be frightened

Commitment is the key to switching systems. MRDCL will offer many advantages, improving productivity and offering tools that mean that teams can work on projects more efficiently. Talk to us now by contacting in the first instance. We can then discuss the practicalities of converting from Quantum to MRDCL.