I was fascinated by these two applications, in addition to NVIVO.
I spend a couple of days learning about each of the software: trying with sample projects, watching tutorials etc. I tried all of them on the Macbook.
NVIVO is useless on the mac
NVIVO is generally the slowest of all the three; and has the least features. It is clunky. The Pdf reader is mediocre: not that functional. The pdf reader lacks navigation features such as the bookmark and outline. Therefore, the easiest of the decision was to dismiss NVIVO. Indeed, if not for the dysfunctional pdf reader, I won’t have to pay for QDA software as my university already offers NVIVO for free. But, man, NVIVO on the mac is a joke.
MaxQDA for coding
The real comparison turns out to be between AtlasTi and MaxQDA. These two QDA applications are truly amazing. Maxqda is much faster when importing documents. I was impressed how fast it imports the documents in comparison to NVIVo specifically. Dragging a bunch of text files, NVIVO took more than 30 minutes; Atlas imported them in about 12 minutes: Max did it in just over 1 minute. It was a wow moment. In addition, unlike the other two, Max can import RTFD files. MaxQDA is also extremely polished and clean. Even if there is a huge mess of menus and functions, I love the whole interface of Maxqda. It looks like a Windows application on the mac, in contrast to Atlas which is a truly Mac app. But, to be honest, I was totally in love with the interface of the Maxqda. I also like that it has many features. If one counts the number of features embedded into MaxQDA, they could be twice more than that of the AtlasTi.
But, as I dig deeper, I find some disconcerting worries. As it turns out, the application (the code) is brilliantly done. But, the software has some design directions that made it not so convenient for my use. The whole focus of Maxqda is the code (=tags): not on texts and concepts. That might be fine for some people whose intention is an extensive coding of text.
Reading and annotating a document are second citizens with MaxQDA. There is no advanced document manager unlike in Atlas. As I understand the MAXQDA, the whole system is tuned to people attempt to put their materials into a structured spreadsheet-like system after coding (tagging) every bit of it. The application is tuned to manipulate the codes; not that much of the original texts. Almost every feature of the application is about the code.
My intention is mostly to use these applications to read PDF files, understand the concepts, reflect on them, and develop them in new directions. I want to use them as a hub to knowledge management, not merely coding specific parts.
Coding is not the main focus of my workflow. Reading, understanding, and reflecting are my focuses. For these, the quotation-commenting system presented in AtlasTI is much more practical.
AtlasTi for gaining & breading ideas
Look at what this person says in this video, the value of quotation and reflection on a certain document.
AtlasTi is designed to engage the user with the concepts in the text–for a deeper understating of your material. You can completely gate away with the whole notion of codes and live with Quotations, Comments, Titles of the Quotation and Networks. IN Atlas, you just have enough of the tools to understand complex network of ideas and arguments. AtlasTi can be used as a fully dedicated information manager as well as reading software. The closest I have seen similar to AtlasTI, is a reference manager software in Windows known as Qiqqa. Sente in the mac was also close to doing the same. In Sente, we could quote, comment and Title the quotes. We, however, were not able to tag them. Sente was almost there.
I love the idea of reflecting on what I am reading. I often come up with a completely new idea that could potentially grow to completely new work by reading, commenting on and extending from the works of others. AtlasTI is a perfect tool for that. The pdf reader is fluid and brilliant. You can organize documents and group them. There is a lot of processes you can do about the documents themselves. Even if you don’t want to code them, you can still use Atlas for retrieving information: learn about your documents, writing summaries; comparing the main concepts of each of the documents (by reading the abstracts of article documents, for example).
Max has 4 types of memos; Atlas has just one. The memos in Max are intended to do different tasks. They might even be conceived to do the tasks of the Quotations in Atlas.
So, one might ask, why not using Memos of Max to understand the concepts: just like the Quotations and comments are used in AtlasTi. I have understood that a whole bunch of Memos are designed in Max just to do that. Well, the problem with the memo in Max is not well integrated with the document. It is like a sticky note on the side of a pdf file. They cannot be presented in the map. They are just like the stickies in the PDF files: attached but forgotten.
But, the comments in Atlas are like much like the comment sections in Sente or Qiqqa. AS you click on the highlight, you will have it displayed, you can also read the comments (reflection) in a column alongside the quote.
Be aware that Max also has this term “Quote”: but, it is a different thing. They use it as “quote matrix” which is another spreadsheet to compare different values of the codes. It has nothing to do with the actual quotation of documents/texts.
So, MaxQda or AtlasTi?
My conclusion is that Max is inclined to be a gimmick: focused on turning your documents into discrete spreadsheet-like data. Atlas is much better to dig deeper into intricate logical argumentation and conceptual twists. The link feature in Atlas gives you a glimpse of how the comments, quotations, notes (memos) and documents are related. It can also output analysis, spreadsheet just like Max. but, that doesn’t really interest me.
Atlas also has its own issues, however. Unlike the two other, direct editing of the document is not supported. Plus, exporting documents seems much convoluted and difficult process.
But, the most devastating problem for Atlas is the license. The licensing in AtlasTi is completely evil. It is very expensive. And, it works only for 2 years (student license), and you cannot use the old software again. It is like the online subscription system. Once you are done with your subscription time, you are locked out.
Update: Thanks for Susanne Friese, I am now told that AtlasTi can export the data even after the license has expired. That is good news.