If you search for “web vs desktop” on Google, the reader quickly clarifies that the web application is a better choice than the desktop application. But is this the truth? Has the battle already been fought and won by the web apps? Definitely in some cases. Who would like to download an application online to install it then and enter “web vs desktop” there, only to then only be able to access the number of results that have already been downloaded?
The idea of Google as a pure desktop application is rather daunting. But the typical desktop application is far from extinct. Although the demand for web-based solutions continues to grow, our desktop habits are still deeply ingrained. Our taskbars are still littered with downloaded applications – from Word, Powerpoint and Co. to inDesign and Slack.
Web Vs Desktop: What Does That Even Mean?
Before we take a closer look at the competition between web and desktop applications, it is essential to define what the respective terms mean. As the name suggests, web applications or web-based applications are programs that are accessed online. Web applications are typically called up via a browser, for example, Chrome, Firefox or Explorer. The web applications do not have to be installed on the user’s computer. The application is located on a remote server and is typically transferred to the user computer via an HTTP protocol. The web application is NOT installed locally on the user’s computer.
In contrast to this, desktop applications are installed locally on the computer. All resources required to run this application are available locally on the computer. They are tied to the operating system for desktop applications to function correctly. Anyone who tried to install Word on a Mac in the first few days of Microsoft Office programs will understand the problem very well. In principle, the provision of software via a web browser is the more modern variant. Nonetheless, both methods have advantages and disadvantages that make a closer look worthwhile.
Advantages Of The Desktop Application
Not Dependent On Internet Access
A desktop application that does not require internet access may sound trite because it is ultimately the main difference from a web application. However, there are some advantages to this freedom from the Internet. Desktop applications are usually faster. You are not dependent on the internet connection speed – an advantage, especially in Germany. For example, if a desktop application is installed on a laptop, it could still be used in the deepest part of nowhere.
At the same time, independence from the Internet is also advantageous in the long term. Because desktop applications are installed locally, they do not necessarily have to be hosted on a server. Even if web hosting has become relatively cheap in the meantime, this cost factor is eliminated with desktop applications.
Cooperation Between Software And Hardware
Desktop applications are also called native applications and not without reason. Because: Desktop applications are at home on the installed operating system. The likelihood that a desktop application will respond better to the computer’s hardware components on which it is installed and accordingly run much more smoothly is high. A native application can also access hardware components, ensuring a smoother user experience. Desktop applications are not just “made for it”. They are made for it.
Desktop applications allow complete control over the application’s data storage. Local installation = local data storage. Although there are now many options for encrypting data, a purely local application is probably more secure. Assuming the application doesn’t come from a seedy site on the Internet.
Disadvantages Of The Desktop Application
Native Applications Are Limited By Hardware
Although the development adapted to the hardware, the desktop application was designed to be advantageous. It is also the first disadvantage. This adaptation to the housing also leads to a hardware dependency. For example, if there is not enough storage space, possible extensions can no longer be implemented.
Desktop Applications Are Limited To A Single Computer
A desktop application is limited to a single computer. Once installed, users rely on having the device with them at all times. In other words: a native application is always available offline, but ONLY available offline. Accessing a local application from another device is impossible without the Internet.
Desktop applications must be installed. There is no getting around it. Although the installation process for most desktop applications is now straightforward, installation is always a hurdle for potential users. Since web applications often handle the registration process via third-party providers such as Facebook or Apple ID, downloading and installing a desktop application seems like a real challenge.
Development And Maintenance Costs
The development and maintenance costs for a native app are comparatively higher. The application must be developed individually for each operating system. The same goes for the maintenance costs of desktop applications. This must be done on the computer on which the program is installed and accordingly on site. In this case, a desktop application is comparable to a physical machine.
Advantages Of The Web Application
Access, anytime and anywhere (at least as long as there is a connection to the Internet) and the whole thing with several users simultaneously. Everything regardless of the hardware used. This is probably the most significant advantage of a web-based application over a desktop application. In particular, multi-user capability and the ability to work within one program simultaneously make web applications so attractive in today’s age. In addition, entry via various mobile devices offers the advantage of not always having to carry precisely that piece of hardware with you.
Don’t Download Anything, Don’t Install Anything
Web-based applications do not require a download or installation. As already mentioned nowadays, even logging into web-based applications is often done via third-party providers such as Facebook or Apple ID. This means that the entry barrier for users with web applications is set significantly lower. This also increases the more consistent user experience, as there is no break in the user journey.
Development And Maintenance Costs
In contrast to desktop applications, web applications do not have to be developed for different operating systems. Usually, it is only checked that there is compatibility with the common browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Explorer. Accordingly, web application development costs are typically lower. The same applies to the maintenance costs. Because maintenance work cannot be carried out on each device but once on the application on the server, maintenance costs are reduced many times over.
Disadvantages Of The Web Application
It Always Requires A Working Internet Connection
That is not entirely true because there are now parts of web applications available offline. However, a web application remains a web application and takes place on the web. And to access it you need a working internet connection. But since there is the Internet almost everywhere nowadays, this is no longer a real obstacle in most cases. However, one important note is that a slow internet connection is likely to result in a poor user experience.
The potential for security holes within web applications is higher, assuming the desktop application was not downloaded from a seedy site. That’s because the data is hosted in the cloud. A well-known example of a hacker attack on a cloud was the iCloud attack in 2019 when celebrities published confidential material online. An on-premise installation without a connection to the Internet would not have this problem.
The question of the better choice cannot be answered across the board. Even if the answer “It depends” sounds like a hackneyed phrase, in this case, it is still the correct answer. Do you want a flexible application that can be accessed by multiple users from different devices and that is a little cheaper overall? Then a web application is the right choice. Should the application fall back on existing hardware, call up high-speed services and should the data produced only be stored locally anyway? Then the desktop application is recommended.
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