Desktop applications were first on software market. Nonetheless, with rapid growth of the Internet and e-commerce, web applications began gaining their prominence. However, that does not necessarily mean that the era of desktop is over. Nowadays, there are remarkable examples of desktop applications and web-based apps on the software market, because both have their strengths and weaknesses. So, which benefits and drawbacks do these options have? And which way to choose when you are about to develop an application?
So what is the difference?
Despite the fact that both desktop and web applications are software-based, there is significant difference between them two.
A Web application (Web app) is a software application stored on a remote server and run by the users through the Internet using a web browser. Web applications inquire the content server and immediately generate web documents for their users. Since such apps are accessed via web browsers, the format of these web documents is standard in order to provide the support by all browsers. Apparently, web browser is essential here – it interprets and runs all the scripts as well as displays the look and feel of application.
What differentiates web application from a website is interactivity. While standard websites are usually concentrated on content using static layouts and links, web applications are more about being dynamic and interactive, recognizing their users, enabling them to change the interface and data, and often offering various ways to interact and things to do.
The variety of web apps includes such simple examples as message boards, guest sign-in books, e-mail programs as well as more complicated ones, such as project management, video editing, computer-aided design etc.
On the contrary, desktop application is a software application that is installed on a computer (laptop or desktop) and can be independently deployed. You can install one via any data storage service or download an installation from the Internet. Desktop app operates as stand-alone software, which means it can be used offline and does not require access to the Internet or web browser.
There are a lot of desktop applications with more features (like Microsoft Word) and less features (like simple calendar app). Desktop applications are often created for video-intensive work, for instance, video games or graphic editing. Some classic examples of desktop application are graphical applications, word processors, spreadsheets, web browsers, media players etc.
Web & Desktop apps comparison
Apparently, most of applications are not classic examples of desktop or web. In this case, it’s important to look thoroughly at different factors and compare pros and cons of both types of applications before making a decision which way to go.
No need to install
Web-based applications simply do not require any installation process. Moreover, they don’t occupy extra space on your hard drive. Having got URL, a user name, and a password is enough to use such kind of application.
No upgrades needed
Application of this type does not require upgrading. Since upgrades are applied to the server, users always get the latest version whenever they launch the app. Maybe, it leaves them behind the option to keep the old version but it definitely relieves from postponing the updates, annoying notifications, and spending extra time this process takes.
Web apps are cross-platform, so they can be implemented on different computing platforms. You can run them on any device with a browser. However, there exist some browser compatibilities, which must be taken into account. Nevertheless, no need to build an app around specific platform extends its possibilities and saves costs.
Web apps are worldwide accessible and easily portable. You don’t need your computer near-at-hand. All you need to access an application is any PC and the internet connection, so your location and device you are using does not matter because you can reach your application whenever you need.
Adaptable to workload increase
When there is a great deal of data to be stored and processed, developing a web application is considerably beneficial. You do not need an expensive and powerful hardware because servers can handle everything. When there is more workload, you just add new servers to your system. You can also replace the servers that broke down with the new ones without affecting application performance.
Access from mobile device
One more benefit of using a web application is its adaptability to mobile. Web apps can be accessed from a mobile device without any issues. Nowadays, it is of great importance to have access to the same web app both via desktop and mobile web browser as more and more people are using their smartphones on a daily routine.
Web applications usually face more security risks than the desktop ones. Everyone knows that Internet is not the most secure place on earth. So, when all the data relating to web applications are stored in the cloud, you are at a risk of security breach. Being open to such a large amount of Internet users can be considered a threat.
Internet is widespread, but it is not everywhere. However, connectivity to the server is essential, because all data and business processing logic are stored there. Web applications make no sense when there is no internet access.
Web applications are also accused of being slower than the desktop ones, and connectivity to the Internet plays its role here again. Transmitting data in the Internet every time you request an HTML document makes performance slower, but there is no other way. If a big mass of data data has to be sent via Internet and connection is not fast enough, waiting can be annoying.
There is no one and only version of a browser. So, while being able to work on any computing platform, web-based applications run within various browsers, which they must be compatible with. Existence of different browsers means you have to be sure that they support your application. Moreover, you are also dependent on the way browser supports particular functions and features. Not considering this may result in some difficulties for the users running an application.
No regular fees
You are usually charged some monthly or annual fees for using web application in order to cover costs for expensive servers. When you use a desktop application, you don’t have to worry that one day you can lose the access to it because you haven’t paid the bill. When you buy an application, it is on your computer and it is totally yours.
No reliance on the Internet
You don’t have to worry about slow internet connection or lack of it at all. Certainly, absence of internet connection is not something usual nowadays, but if it happens – it stops the entire working process. Working with desktop applications removes this problem and makes you independent from online network. You are able to access your application as long as you can access your computer.
When it comes to privacy issues, users are more confident about storing their information on their computer, not in web. People usually consider web as a place, which is easy to access for anybody using the Internet and which is full of hackers. Of course, the data on computer is also not totally safe, but if you make your choice taking into account this feature, desktop wins over web.
Better use of computer resources
Desktop enables using the capabilities of the hardware available. If you want to develop a game, Computer-Aided Drawing (CAD) or Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM), you will need more computer hardware, interacting directly with it. Browser-based applications cannot offer you this because desktop ones allow making the most of the computer capacity.
In general, desktop applications are faster than web-based ones, run independently on your computer, and do not require proper connection to the Internet. In this case, independency from web brings a positive result.
Lower hosting costs
Developing a website for a desktop application requires minimal hosting costs. All you need here is serving several pages along with downloading file to every user and then upgrading. At the same time, hosting costs for a web-based application are much higher.
Lack of portability
Desktop applications are mostly not portable and restricted to one location, which is your computer. If you move from one computer to another it won’t influence your interaction with web-based application, but if you use desktop one – you will need to install it again and start everything from the beginning.
Installation is necessary
Desktop applications require from user manual installation as well as some place on the hard drive. You have to spend some time and put some effort in this installation process, which usually takes not that much, but still can be annoying.
As it was mentioned before, unlike web-based applications, which are installed only once, desktop apps have to be installed on each computer independently. When it comes to updates, things stay the same. You have to pass updates to all your users no matter how many of them are there – several persons or several thousands. What is more, desktop applications need to be manually updated every time on every single computer, which also takes some time.
Extra storage needed
While web applications use storage in the cloud, desktop ones need some place on your computer. Sometimes, space on your hard drive may be not enough for an app, and improving this problem may cause inconvenience.
In the last few years, web applications became more and more popular. When internet connection is almost everywhere and people are actively using their mobile devices for different purposes, web software development looks extremely attractive. However, prominence of web-based applications doesn’t mean disappearance of desktop ones. The latter has its benefits and is not about to go anywhere.
By comparing advantages and disadvantages of each type of application, you can decide which one is the most suitable for you. All companies are unique and there is no one and only decisive criterion here. Regarding the goals you want to reach, your business specialties, the needs, which your app must satisfy, the level of access, and other peculiarities you have to make your decision and start off.
Author: Roma Gnatyk
Researcher, copywriter, social media manager