Standard user interface control enables a user to access, and filter, data from arbitrary data providers. A header control 222 in a windowed environment includes an area 310 for displaying a data set and associated data attributes (e.g. application documents with filename, path, date; WWW page hits with date, size, domain) provided by a data provider, and presents labels 320-326, filters 330-336 and pulldown menu buttons 340-346 for each attribute. The data provider indicates the labels and menus to be displayed. The user specifies criteria for filtering the data set, by entering input into one or more filter fields, in association with use of the pulldown menus 382. These filter criteria are passed to the data provider through a set of APls, and the data provider returns the filtered data set for display.; New filter criteria are preferably passed to the data provider as they are being typed by the user, allowing successively smaller sets of results data to be displayed and thus giving the visual impression of a shrinking data set. Non-textual (e.g. colour, fig. 10) filtering criteria can be input using non-textual interfaces, specified by the data providers.