Article #46: MaCATI and PowerTab

As Microsoft's grip on the IT market loosens, Tim Macer evaluates two survey software packages for the Mac

Return of the Mac


At a time when Microsoft's stranglehold on the world of IT is being called into question, some software manufacturers are starting to remember that alternatives platforms do exist. Having let the Mac version of its flagship statistics and analysis package wither on the vine since 1995, SPSS is now putting the final touches to a new version with an "all-new native Mac user interface". SPSS hopes to start shipping SPSS 10 for Macintosh in North America this month, with Europe to follow.
Two other products from the States offer comprehensive survey set up and processing: PowerTab and MaCATI for the user-friendly environment of the Mac.
Power Knowledge Software's PowerTab is aimed at end users and non-survey specialists. It opens with an 'Expert Helper' that helps you design a survey from scratch from a limited repertoire of questionnaire styles. These largely reflect the needs of American small business owners. But you can avoid the wizard and design your own surveys from scratch in a very simple editor window. There are two flavours of questionnaire, paper and HTML; and it understands the concepts of multiple response data, different texts for questions and tables and is reasonably research-savvy. The web facility also takes care of the technical 'nasty bits' that need to be put on the web server, whether it is UNIX, Windows or Mac.
The data entry screen is an exact replica of the questionnaire, and data entry is swiftly achieved without any need to touch the mouse. However, there is no concept of routing, and the web presentation of the questionnaire is essentially a large scrolling form in which all of the questions are visible, even those that do not apply.
The cross tab facility is fairly decent with support for filters and re-categorisation of data, but is limited to one cross-break at once. It will also let you do cross-tabs from a Filemaker Pro database, which is a plus. At a mere US$199, it could be worth it for this feature alone, and for simple paper questionnaires it is fine. But it is limited as a web survey tool by its lack of support for routing.
PowerTab and MaCATI: pros and cons
Powertab Pros
Very simple
Supports paper and web questionnaires
Can also tab from Filemaker Pro databases
A bit too simple for MR users
Does not support skips and routing
Easy to use
Reasonably flexible for CATI or CAPI
Networking needs no specialist knowledge
No web support
Slightly old-fashioned feel to interface

Senecio Software's MaCATI provides a much more comprehensive Mac-friendly survey tool, being a full-blown and well-endowed networked CATI system. For example, it supports on-screen skips and routing, dynamic text

Networking has always been one of the Mac's strong points

substitution, randomisation, question timers, answer suppression and, to my view, all the basics you need to create complex CATI interviews. A separate 'Cleric' module handles the allocation of sample to interviewers and the management of call-backs and quota control, plus provision of performance statistics - something that is woefully lacking in some of the most well-known CATI packages.
The point-and-click questionnaire generation tool seems productive to use, though it lacked somewhat on the aesthetics. The interface is rather unbalanced, with some screens seeming overcrowded against others that looked rather sparse. Curiously, some everyday features, including defining answers to questions, could only be reached through cryptic command key sequences and did not appear on menus or toolbars.
Networking has always been one of the Mac's strong points, as it involves little more than plugging them all

into a hub. MaCATI exploits this simplicity when it comes to allocating interviewing stations. I imagine it would be perfectly feasible to set up a 40 station CATI system without any need for technical networking expertise - quite a contrast to building an NT network. Tabulation can be carried out on the Mac in the sister product FloStat.
MaCATI supports disk-by-mail self-completion surveys on either Windows or Mac, but does not run to internet surveys. Senecio is at present developing a new generation of 'platform neutral' software products under the name AskAnywhere, which will include support for Java, XML and WAP phones.
In terms of rehabilitating the Mac, opening up the way for Linux and diminishing Microsoft's stranglehold, the 'platform neutral' approach is the most significant. More and more internet and Java-based applications for market research are emerging all the time. Almost all of the new ASP solutions, such as Confirm, could not care less if you are using a PC, a Mac, or eventually a WAP phone.

Fully working demonstration copies are available on the internet:



Tim Macer writes as an independent specialist in software for market research. His website is at

Published in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, October 2000, Issue 413.

© Copyright Tim Macer/Market Research Society 2000. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.

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