October 01, 2011

Atlas.Ti 6 vs NVivo 9: A Comparison

Follow-up to Potential uses of CAQDA software packages from A.Hariri's

A couple of days ago I received an e-mail from one of my research blog (in Arabic) followers asking for my opinion on choosing NVivo or Atlas.Ti. I've sent her a summary of some of the issues that I faced when I tried both of them.

Today, I was asked by a friend of mine, Salma Patel of why I chose Atlas.Ti over NVivo as well, therefore, I decided to write a detailed post about this to help those who may be looking into this as well.

I found that Atlas.Ti 6 and NVivo 9 were two of the most used software packages out there. So, I went ahead to do some research and I decided to try them both. I ended up choosing Atlas.Ti although I was much inclined to use Nvivo for the following reasons:

Nvivo stores everything within 1 project file. There is the obvious risk of losing everything if this file becomes corrupted.

Yes, I will make backups, but I still want to be safe. Furthermore, what if there is a bug in the software itself? It wouldn't really be able to access anything.

Atlas.Ti has a project file that only stores projects information and certain details. Documents/PDFS do not have to be imported into the project. Atlas.Ti can get them where they are :).

In the worst case scenario that something may be wrong with the file, you can still access external documents such as PDFs.

I already have a working structure of my documents (Thanks to Mendeley), why would I need to copy those files over to NVivo too? Waste of space in my opinion. Some could say delete the PDFs from Mendeley and just have the record for each document. Well, this can be done but then, I wouldn't really be using Mendeley's nice features such as effective searching within PDFs and pictures, etc..

Because Atlas.Ti will reach your documents where they are, you could have Mendeley arrange your library into a certain structure, then, you ask Atlas.ti to link those documents to your project.

Note: You may want Mendeley to sort your documents into folders based on Years at the the top level so that you could easily see which document your passage you are reading if you output a list of passages within Atlas.Ti. I have also had Mendeley rename the files so that Author's names are in the begining of the file name for the same reason too.

Because it relies on 1 project file, there is no doubt that the file size would become bigger as you go on. Project file remains very small.
I found NVivo to be a bit slow although I was working with an empty project... Still going fast
The bigger the project size the laggier NVivo becomes. Would not lag as much because the project file which runs the show is relatively small.
Until recently, NVivo had a very bad support for PDFs and I was surprised to see the company taking their time (months!!!) to release an update that would fix this although I would expect this to be a core feature in this age! I haven't looked into the update which they said should fix any PDF issues because I had already decided to go with Atlas.Ti. Excellent support for PDFs!
Due to the above point, I believe that NVivo should look more into updating more frequently, especially when certain things should be fixed and are demanded to be fixed by customers in the forums Many updates released continuously which improves the way Atlas.Ti works or fixes bugs and so on. In fact, I think I've seen 4 minor updates for Atlas.Ti within the last 2-3 months. It tells me as a customer that they care!
Although a bit slow sometimes, the UI is better than Atlas.Ti which was one of the main reasons I was seriously hoping to use it. However, the late release of the update and the slow response killed any chance I had of using it. UI not as nice as NVivo, but, as I started working more with Atlas.Ti, I started to appreciate the UI and how it is arranged. However, it is obvious that I am more interested in performance.

These are what I think some of the key issues I based my comparison on, when it comes to features, both software packages offer very similar set of features.

After writing this comparison, I have to say that I do not hate NVivo, I simply think it wasn't for me. Others may find working with NVivo is better for their own reasons. I still follow the development of both NVivo and Atlas.Ti, and I still retweet some of their announcements and so on to my Research Blog (in Arabic) followers.

I hope some of you out there find this helpfu! and I am happy to learn about your experiences with any of the mentioned software packages.

- 11 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

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  1. Scott Baldwin

    Hi Abdulrahman, thanks for your insightful comments. As the Technical Architect for NVivo, I am very interested to hear both positive and negative feedback about our product. I’m glad you like our user interface, we have worked very hard on this, and pay close attention to customer feedback. It is interesting to hear your reasons for choosing Atlas.Ti, and yes, as you correctly stated, prior to NVivo 9.1, our support for PDF documents lagged behind. This was the main reason we embarked on the 9.1 release, and I feel safe in saying that our PDF support is now first class. I would be interested in your feedback on our new PDF support if you get the opportunity to test it out.

    With respects to the other core difference between NVivo and Atlas.TI, that being the difference between linking and importing files, the reason behind this was to enable the usage scenario of easily sharing projects between team members via file shares, usb keys, or even simply internal email attachments. What this decision means is that everything that constitutes an NVivo project, all of the different types of source files, the coding structures, the visualizations etc… is kept securely in a single file, and can be opened just as easily from any computer running NVivo, regardless of whether that computer is connected to the office LAN, or the internet.

    You also mentioned performance, and yes, we were aware of some performance issues in our software, in fact, we have been on a bit of a crusade internally to rectify some of these issues. We were able to implement some performance and scalability improvements into NVivo 9.2 in response to customer feedback and NVivo 9.2 is ~30% faster than NVivo 8.0.


    03 Oct 2011, 23:42

  2. Hi Scott and thanks for your excellent comment.

    It is great to know that NVivo’s support for PDF is now first class.

    With regard to the portability of the projects, I agree with you that this is one way to approach this, however, I am concerned as you can see of how heavy/slow NVivo can get if the project file was too big. You see I am kind of looking into it in the long-term. I am gathering different resources as I go on and I will be probably doing the same thing in 3 years time. Hence, I am concerned that the file could become very big that I wouldn’t be able to open it and work on it from any PC. Yes having the whole project in a file is nice for easy move/transfer of the file, however, there is another approach that can be used for this, just like Atlas.Ti did. Offer a way to pack everything and get a single file that can be then unpacked on any other PC. This would help keep the project file small while offering the feature of being portable if needed.

    With regard to the performance, it was a great concern to me, I also noticed that you released a 64bit version, which is nice.

    I look forward to trying NVivo in the near future, to see how the performance has improved and to test it’s PDF support :).

    Once again, thank you for your comment and I hope that both NVivo and Atlas.Ti remain competitive and continuously improve in a way that would benefit us, the customers :).

    04 Oct 2011, 23:22

  3. Jason Taylor

    Hi Abdulrahman, we were just hoping that you might take a look at Dedoose. We have importers for Atlas.Ti, NVivo as well as many more. We are a new startup in the field and looking to get feedback from experienced users in the field. Check out Dedoose, and please email jason@dedoose.com for more information.
    ~ JT

    05 Oct 2011, 10:13

  4. Hi Jason,

    Thanks for your comment and for inviting me to try Dedoose. Although I haven’t tried Dedoose yet, I am very interested in doing so. I have been following it’s development for a while now :)

    I guess I should try it sometime soon! I’ll let you know if I needed any help.

    Many thanks!

    05 Oct 2011, 10:21

  5. IanRoberts

    Your comparison of both software is interesting, and while the problems of NVivo are real and well known, your assessment of Atlas.ti seems to be clearly biased positively. The fact that files have been residing outside Atlas.ti have caused problems for so many Atlas.ti users. If someone edit this file, it will corrupt your project. If you move the file or delete it, you will have problem. And moving a project become a nightmare. No wonder why Atlas.ti decided to change this in their upcoming version 7.

    Your evaluation is also incomplete since it does not mention anything about the two other major players: MaxQDA (www.maxqda.com) and QDA Miner (www.provalisresearch.com). They both offer easier user interfaces and they are both much faster than Altas.ti (and of course NVivo) on large projects.

    14 Oct 2011, 15:04

  6. Hi Ian,
    Thanks for your comment.

    Actually I had no bias towards Atlas.Ti whatsoever as I said, because I actually wanted to use NVivo from the start. With regard to the problem of having a corrupted document or sometimes project. Atlas.Ti clearly states in its documentation and also in many of the tutorials they released that files shouldn’t be edited outside of Atlas.Ti. I have had this problem I think once, but once I knew I wasn’t supposed to edit files outside of Atlas.Ti I never had a corrupted project or document.

    With regard to moving a project, Atlas.Ti has the bundle feature which I find very useful, it packs everything for you within a single file if needed. Also, there are different scenarios where Atlas.Ti can be used by a team or across multiple-locations. Details on this are within the documentation.

    Finally, you say my evaluation is incomplete but I did say that while I was researching (about 9months ago), these were the most discussed options based on what I’ve found on search results and some forums. That’s why I choose to compare them. I didn’t had the intention to compare every package out there :).

    I didn’t see much update reviews on any of the software packages you mentioned, but I’ll keep them in mind.

    Thanks again for your contribution.

    14 Oct 2011, 15:33

  7. Cadu


    I appreciated very much this discussion. I am going to buy a software and until now I am very confused what to choose. About what Ian Roberts told related to MaxQDA and QDA Miner, does anyone have any information? Is there any advantage of MaxQDA and QDA Miner on Nvivo or Atlas? And about last NVivo upgraded (9.2) mentioned by Scott Baldwin, is this software now better than Atlas Ti in any aspect? Thanks in advance for any advice. Cadu

    25 Oct 2011, 22:09

  8. Hello,

    Glad you found this helpful. With regard to MaxQDA and QDA, I haven’t really tried them so I cannot tell. However, I think almost all of those packages offer trials/demos where you can test the software.

    I think one of the aspects that you should consider is how friendly/responsive the software is rather than just looking and the features and then ending up buying a software package that can’t be used easily.

    With regard to your last question, although NVivio’s update may have solved the PDF problem, I don’t believe I will be switching to it because there are other issues that I didn’t really like as discussed above in my post. Therefore, I continue to use Atlas.Ti and I am loving it.

    Let us know if you have decided to test those software packages and which one you will be purchasing :).

    26 Oct 2011, 11:30

  9. Scott

    Any thoughts about what the easiest QDA software is for a complete novice doing just one project? I would like something easy to learn and easy to use.

    11 Jan 2012, 22:33

  10. Corey

    Like Scott, I would be very interested in hearing from fledgling researchers or PhD students who used software for their dissertations. I am limited in qualitative experience and am hoping for the least painful experience possible. Thanks!

    23 Jan 2012, 05:01

  11. I am also new to qualitative research in general, and I honestly found that using both NVivo and Atlas.Ti was easy enough for me. The important thing to note however is that they come with loads of different features. Hence, to maximise their use, it may be good to consider reading about these features or attending a workshop to learn about them.

    Personally although I have been using Atlas.Ti for a while, I believe I have only used 10% of its functionality. I am not saying that it was hard to learn it, but I guess because I am busy with my research, I have only been exposed to certain areas or features that I saw relevant to what I am trying to do.

    So, to answer your question, it depends on how big your project is. If it is a big project then it would be a good idea to check both Atlas.Ti and NVivo and pick the one that you believe easier to use. Do ntoe however if you are planning to use too many sources that you may want to avoid using NVivo as it becomes very slow. If the project was actually a small one, I would suggest that you may want to do everything manually instead of relying on and having to learn one of those packages. This may end up saving you time and money!

    As I said in my post, I was looking at this and imagining myself using it for many years to come, because I do plan to grow my library as this will without a doubt make doing research and information gathering, sorting and retrieval much easier in the future.

    I hope my answer helps :) and I am happy to answer any further questions!


    23 Jan 2012, 12:57

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Name: Abdulrahman Hariri

PhD student at WMG.

I’ve started a research education website in 2009 to help people from the Middle East learn how to do scientific research. The website continues to attract tens of thousands each month and has over half a million followers on social media.

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