Article #27: Pulsar from Pulse Train Technology

Tim Macer gets to grip with a new end-user tab package

Pulsar: pricey - but nearly perfect

This month, I confess to failure. In the interests of balance and symmetry, I feel it is my duty to pick out at least one or two flaws from among the froth and puff of software promotion. But Pulsar, Pulse Train Technology's newest cross-tab package looks good, feels good, has everything you might want and works openly with other packages. Dig as I might, I can find no dirt. Damn it, for a Windows program, it doesn't even crash!
Screenshot view of Pulsar output and chart
Click on the image for an enlarged view
Pulsar is designed as an end-user tab package, and packs in a lot of features without making the program over-complex. As in SPSS, you can create a three dimensional pivot table. But it is more dynamic than SPSS, allowing you to add and remove variables interactively. SNAP, Quanvert and SPSS all allow you to create filters and new variables, but Pulsar provides a uniquely graphic way to do this with its "visual expression builder". You can even define a weighting scheme as a set of "visual weights".

Visual expression builders are a good example of how Pulsar reduces the technical skill level required to perform quite complex analyses. You select a simple cross tab to identify the sub-groups of interest. With the subgroups, and the numbers of respondents in each visible on screen, simply click on each cell you wish to select: the package takes care of all the tricky 'ands' and 'ors' in the background. The interface is not quite as pretty as Memphis Survey Explorer (Software with the "Wow" factor, August 98) but is clear and workmanlike, using the Windows Explorer look that appears in some other well-designed bits of software, most notably the questionnaire builder in SPSSMR's In2quest CAPI tool.

But then, just when you have got the hang of the basics, it has some real surprises in store. It includes charts, which Quanvert does not, though SPSS, SNAP and Merlin Plus all do. Pulsar lets you chart directly from a part of a table. Simply drag over the section of the table you want to chart, and select "graph" from the right mouse button. It is easier than anything I have seen to date, including Excel.

Pulsar's "profile reports"are of particular interest to the researcher. These let you produce summaries or listings of individual answers. You can even look at the responses of one particular case, or list out the verbatim responses to open-ended questions, if your data have come from CATI or CAPI, or have been keyed in during data entry. These features have the potential to save huge amounts of time and laborious effort, especially over quality checking.

Research agency Eurisko in Italy were among the first users of Pulsar when it was first introduced in 1995. They chose it to deliver large syndicated media surveys to their clients, because they needed something that would work entirely in a Windows environment and cope with very large samples and databases. Even in Eurisko's case, the program has taken them by surprise as they now use it internally for their everyday tabs and reports too. Maurizio Sivieri, Eurisko's head of data processing is delighted with this double benefit of Pulsar: "When we started we thought it would be a tool for data delivery to clients but we never realised we would use it internally to the extent that we do. It is a very powerful tool that can help researchers to do their own analyses. Now, we create a Pulsar database for every survey we do. Pulsar can help you during the data collection as well as after this, because it is so easy to get a report out of it."

In the UK, Business & Market Research chose it to interface with their Bellview system. David Ellis, B&MR's IT manager told Reseatch: "The way it links into CATI is brilliant. We take the Bellview files and the data without any messing about and you can just use it straight into Pulsar. This enables execs to answer queries on the surveys vertually in realtime and they can do this themselves."

Another hidden strength to delight B&MR is its open relationship to other systems. Mr Ellis was critical of the packages that do not provide this kind of openness. Pulsar has completely de-skilled the set-up process enabling data to flow easily in and out of it with the minimum fuss. There is even an ODBC "mapper" that allows you to drive real-time Pulsar tabs straight from Oracle, Access, or any other ODBC database.

So, while Quanvert may have the critical mass of users, Pulsar now has the critical mass of core functionality, and skillfully exploits areas such as openness, integration and ease of setup where Quanvert is weak. We could be about to watch the feathers fly, as a new pecking order is established among end-user cross-tab programs.

Pros Cons
Quick to learn
Easy to use
Packed with features
Case-by-case reports
Can define your own weighting
Works well with ODBC databases
Very open system


Pulse Train Technology 01483 300100. Web

Published in Research Magazine, the independent voice of market research in Great Britain, March 1999, Issue 394.

© Copyright Tim Macer 1999. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.

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