MarcEdit design question/advice

By reeset / On / In MarcEdit

I asked this question on the MarcEdit Listserv, but will post it here as well.  Below, is the message and images of the wireframes that are mentioned.  If you have an opinion – feel free to join the list and let me know, or if you like, you can contact me directly at: terry.reese@oregonstate.edu

 

******* Forwarded Message from the MarcEdit-L Archive **********

I have a question and I’m hoping that the collective wisdom of the MarcEdit-L list can help me solve it.  I’ve got an update for MarcEdit that I’ve been sitting on for about a month because I have a specific issue (usability mostly) that I’m trying to solve, and I have an idea how to do it, but it will change the way that you edit MARC records in the editor (at least, how they are displayed) and before I go forward, I wanted to quickly take the communities pulse on this.

The problem

So let’s start with an explanation of the problem.  As folks that have worked with both MarcEdit 4.x and MarcEdit 5.x know, the ability for the Editor to load a lot of data into is much different.  In MarcEdit 4.x, the application utilized a custom edit control written in assembly for loading and editing records in the MarcEditor.  This allowed users to load very large files (150 MB or so) into the editor without a noticeable change in speed when adding new data to the editor, resizing windows, etc.  In MarcEdit 5.x, I made a conscious decision to utilize all .NET components to preserve the ability to port MarcEdit to the Linux and Mac platforms (Linux will be officially completed at the next release btw) – however, this had some implications with the editor in two ways.  1) Loading rich content into the editor has a much higher memory cost and 2) this higher memory cost has a definite effect on performance (loading and editing).  This is why I introduced the preview mode – a read-only mode that allowed users to load a snippet of the file and then make their global edits.  For my usage of MarcEdit, this worked beautifully – but I’m finding that a number of users have workflows that require them to load the entire file and perform single record edits which is, I’ll admit, painful when files start to get close to 8-10 mbs in size – as changes in the editing window often times are made, but are made with a delay (i.e., you type a word – a pause, then the data catches up).  This also affects screen resizing, etc.  Tied to this problem is the various character encodings that MarcEdit supports (it’s beyond MARC8 and UTF8).  This as well causes an issue with memory usage depending on the encoding in use – and honestly, is one of the big reasons for the change away from the assembly components in MarcEdit 4.x – that component simply didn’t do Unicode well and that’s the future of MARC.  The current component in MarcEdit does Unicode very well, but certain scripts give Windows some fits rendering (performance wise) – so it’s a problem – one that I’d like to solve.

Solutions

Anyway, that’s the problem I’m looking to solve.  I’m looking for a solution that will allow users that want to make individual record changes on large dataset within the MarcEditor, and do so in a way that allows the editor to gracefully handle memory management and performance.  The present solution, the one that is completely untenable, is to load all the data into an edit control.  On my test machines, I can load files up to ~150 MB in size into the control (your mileage will vary due to virtual memory restrictions and available ram) but it comes at a huge cost.  In Windows (and virtual languages like .NET especially), rendering content virtually is expensive.  Memory consumed is roughly 4x the source – so, rendering 150 MB of data costs my system ~600 MB of virtual ram.  Painful, and performance shows.  This is why the preview mode is there.  But let’s say you are dealing with a smaller dataset, something in the 8-10 MB range.  You are still consuming close to 40 MB to render the data – and performance can suffer depending on hardware and memory available.  If you need to make individual record changes on a batch in that size range, making these changes may be frustrating as you may indeed have to deal with a delay in entering data as the system re-buffered available memory to handle the work.  I’m pretty sure that everyone that’s had this happen agrees that this needs to change (I’ve heard from 3 people recently that have been experience this problem and are trying to figure out how to make it work within existing workflows) and I’m sure there are others that have not spoken up or may still use MarcEdit 4.x for very specific tasks simply because the handling of larger files for individual record editing was better (which is fair, but becomes less and less of a reliable solution as more data becomes available in UTF8).

So I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past month, writing some test code, developing some wireframes and I want to present some options and get some feedback.  Essentially, there are two ways that I think I can deal with this issue.  One is to essentially provide real-time random access to large files [not preferred], so that the only data loaded into the editor will be available within the memory buffer.  This would likely be the ideal solution, but it also is the most difficult to write simply because all data would need to be mapped to temporary buffers, tracked, etc.  Also, when dealing with really large files, the random access will not be immediate, meaning that as you move further down the file, the ability to page down may become more labored.  The benefits however, is that the memory footprint would be much, much lower so performance for general, individual record editing, should improve greatly.  It also would most closely resemble the current way that MarcEdit provided editing within the MarcEditor.  All data would appear to be loaded in a Notepad-like interface – you’d page down, scroll down just as you do now.  I’m not sure how this would affect Find and Replace – but I’m sure we could make it work. 

And while the above may be the more ideal, it’s not the one that I’m leaning towards (hence this message).  I’ve been thinking a lot about how MARC records are represented in MarcEdit, how they are edited, etc. and I’m beginning to believe that when working with a large set of MARC records, the best solution wouldn’t be to provide simply a complete picture of all loaded records, but would be to display groups of records, with the ability to page through a recordset.  I’ve attached some wireframes to illustrate this point in the attached PowerPoint.  In slide 1, I’ve provided a demo of how I think the editing may look (ignore the menus, icons – these are just part of my test code).  Essentially, users would define how many records they want to display per “page?.  I’m thinking that the sweet spot would likely be about 500 – but I’d make this user defined.  MarcEdit can then, very quickly, determine how many records are in the file and then break up the record set as pages.  MarcEdit then would only load one page of records at a time.  This allows users the ability to quickly do individual edits of records, reduces memory footprint and greatly improves the overall experience of using large data files.  It also takes system memory limitations completely out of the equation, as only a small block of records will be displayed at any given time.

Using this system also would let me rethink how we do finds within a Recordset.  At present, when you use the find tool, MarcEdit has to enumerate over the entire record set and this is, for all intensive purposes, a very memory intensive operation.  Slow too if you have a lot of records.  In this new model, I’d add a new button to the Find dialog – Find All (see slide 2).  When Find All was used, what would be generated is a report of all occurrences of the needle found within the record set.  The report would show the criteria in context, with the ability to jump to the specific page where the text was found.  Personally, I think that this could be a big improvement over current find, as users would immediately be able to see all the cases in which a criteria exists without having to jump through the entire file.  Additionally, this type of a design would allow me to start thinking about the MarcEditor itself, so that record set editing could be done with pages (so you could for example, span a new page within a new MarcEditor tab so pages could be compared [see slide 3]).  I think that this type of design could eventually lead to some fairly interesting enhancements – but I also recognize that it will be different.  It represents a different way to view and edit records in MarcEdit – though, this change really only affect how you edit records individually (since global editing is done differently). 

Finally, implementation – if I move down the above path – I can integrate the current test code into the existing MarcEdit application with little work.  I could wrap up my update and not have to really worry about introducing regression errors.  If I try to implement the first solution, all bets are off in terms of when it would be done.  It would represent a major change to how data is handled within the program and I’d have to step back, re-write a lot of code and then find some willing users to try  it because there would be a significant chance for regression errors.

Anyway, that’s my idea.  I think it addresses a known weakness in the program and makes individual record editing better, and does so without causing too much interruption to the user.  And, if successful, may allow me to slowly remove the preview mode from the MarcEditor, as it would no longer be needed.

How can you help

If you stayed with me this long and looked at the wireframes, you are probably wondering how you can help.  Well, I’m looking for comments and ideas on this.  MarcEdit is a very community oriented project.  I’d say that over 90% of the work that goes into the program, is done at the community’s request.  This is an issue that I know has been raised by members of the user community, and I’m really waiting to make the community involved in the decision.  I’m definitely open to other suggestions and suggestions for how to tweak the wireframes (since I recognize that there are many places where usability could be improved) – but that’s kind of where I’m at right now. 

Thanks everyone who made it this far,

–TR

********************************
Terry Reese
Gray Family Chair
for Innovative Library Services
121 Valley Libraries
Corvallis, Or 97331
tel: 541.737.6384
********************************

 

Wireframes:

 

Slide 1

 

Slide1

 

 

 

Slide 2

 Slide2

 

 

Slide 3

 

Slide3

5 thoughts on “MarcEdit design question/advice

  1. I am only an occasional user of marcedit, but I actually find your second (which you say is not ideal) solution to be a BETTER one in terms of user interface and my use. I’d RATHER have it.

  2. Jonathan,

    Thanks for the feedback. I’m hoping most will think like you — would be really easy to implement and I’m all for making my life a little easier here. 🙂

    –TR

  3. Hi Terry,

    We have only just begun using MarcEdit, and then really only for global changes. The Find All feature would be awesome for us! I also think that considering the way we are using the program it would make editing much faster since the load times would be shorter for larger files.

    Speaking as a programmer, the first solution sounds like a nightmare and one that you may get halfway into and realize it just isn’t worth it…I know that’s not a fun place to be!

    Joel

  4. Joel,

    Yeah — I’ve definitely decided to go with the second option. In fact, just about have it completed. The biggest difficulty — when dealing with .NET, is that all file reading (except for very low level FileStream work) is buffered, so it’s difficult to get actual file positions where data is read. Which of course you want — that way, when you do the initial pre-process of a file to determine how many records are in a file, you can get positioning of the individual pages as well — this way, as you page, you are simply seeking and reading from positions rather than having to enumerate through the file itself. I’ve got this working now — need to test a little more though. In fact, with some luck, I should have it all completed today, in which case, I’m going to post a private version for folks to download and test — with the caveat that I need folks that are using MarcEdit with a variety of different charactersets (both mnemonic and UTF8) to try the program to ensure that I’ve gotten this correct.

    –TR