Saturday, February 28, 2009

On Filtering

I have worked quite a bit with filtering over the past couple of years and I just happen to be an obsessive filterer when it comes to my music collection. As in I rarely listen to a specific album or artist but to playlists that are made up of genres, rating and so forth.

This will be the first post in a series on filtering. My main goal is to explain a recent design of an attribute based filtering I have been part of for Windows Server 2008 R2 Active Directory Administrative Center –lovely short name, ain’t it ;-)

First however, I think we should talk a little about filtering in general, the different kinds of filtering, some different implementations of query based filtering and then we will get to the AD Administrative Center design and why we designed it the way we did.

Why Filtering

If you boil it down to the core we only really deal with a few questions in UI design. ‘Find stuff’ and ‘deal with stuff’. Both gets more and more exaggerated as there is more and more stuff and the stuff becomes more and more complex. My music collection is some 10.000 songs and that is not even considered large by today’s standards, and each song has so much meta-data that the traditional windows property pages crumble under the weight. Now try managing a data center, or try to look at events, or figure out the meta-data on an AD object and the music example will seem trivial in comparison.

But music makes good example data for talking about filtering because it has built in natural groupings such as artist, album, year, and genre, and most music players allow you to add to that meta-data with for example ratings or moods. In that way music has many of the same characteristics of the data we deal with in the IT management space.

I split my music into Indie Rock, Alternative Rock, Y’alternative, Hard Rock etc. and make playlists with criteria like

Hard rock, Heavy Rock, Alternative, unrated or with a rating over 3 and not marked for not playing.

If we write that out it becomes

Genre = Hard rock OR Heavy Rock OR Alternative
AND Rating is above 3 OR Rating is empty
AND Comments does not contain ‘don’t play’

This query is not unlike queries we will find in the IT management space, in ERP, or anywhere else where we are dealing with large data sets of structured data.

Next, let’s discuss the details of filtering and Boolean logic (Getting deep on filtering) or you can skip that if you know the stuff or really don’t care and go straight to the different kinds of filtering.

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