I just received an email from a colleague asking me a simple question that is probably relevant vor many people: “A student of mine is looking for a good qualitative software program to analyze interviews. Perhaps you have some recomendations?” So here’s my answer:
There are basically two alternatives: MaxQDA and Atlas.ti. [Update Nov. 2011: I now also consider NVivo worth considering] I myself still work with Atlas.ti simply because it allows me to scan my handwritten field into pdf-files and code them like images. Although MAXqda does now support pdf files, it only supports coding of text in these pdf-files, which renders it useless for coding scanned fieldnotes. Apart from this difference, which is essential for me, (and putting asside the rather restrictive license terms which allow you to install the student license on one single computer only) my personal impression is that MAXqda is the better software package at this point. But my judgement is based only on a quick look at the trial version of MAXqda. I have not actually worked with it (while I’ve used Atlas.ti for years). What makes me think that MaxQDA is better is its more intuitive (and prettier) user interface and such things as its visualization tools.
Apart from the better pdf-support, another advantage of Atlas.ti might be the better integration of audio transcription (and what they call “Text-to-Media Synchronization”). But there are probably other important differences depending on the type of analysis one wants to make. If you work in a team, check especially for team-functionality (i.e. sharing of data, collaborative coding etc). If you are wondering which dimensions of comparison might be relevant for you, check out the following book: Lewins, Ann & Silver, Christina (2007): Using software in qualitative research: A step-by-step guide. Los Angeles: Sage. Note, however, that this book reviews older versions of both programs, so that you should make an up-to-date comparison yourself. But the book might guide your comparison. Feel free to post the results of your comparison as a comment below.
P.S. If you’ve been wondering what the “Max” in MaxQDA stands for: In an introductory workshop held by one of the MaxQDA developers, I was told that “Max” is a reference in honour of Max Weber.