Desktop App vs Web App: Comparative Analysis

June 03, 2020
#WebDevelopment #DesktopDevelopment #SoftwareDevelopment

Software development projects often start with a common dilemma: desktop vs web application. Pros and cons of each option make it a tough but crucial choice. But what are they?

What Are Desktop and Web Apps?

The platform has had a huge effect on the application throughout the history of software development. With the introduction of cross-platform apps, this gap has been getting progressively narrower. But before discussing how it is possible, let’s see what is the difference between web and desktop applications.

Desktop Applications

It’s a type of software that you install directly on your personal computer. You can launch it whenever you want independently of other applications. They take up space of your hard drive and can work regardless of internet connection. Although some apps need it to function as intended (web browsers like Chrome or Firefox, for example) they are still considered desktop apps since they are installed on your PC.

Outside of the aforementioned web browsers, there are tons of other desktop apps you are familiar with. Office programs like Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, graphical editors like Photoshop and Paint, video games, media players, and so on and so forth. Some have more features, some are more resource hungry and some are fairly simple. But the one thing they all have in common is that they are installed on your desktop and provide some sort of functionality.

Web Applications

This type of software application is used through the internet via a web browser. Instead of storing the files on your computer, they are located on a remote server. A web browser allows you to access the app and its content and also runs all the scripts responsible for its features. What differentiates a simple static web page from the web application is interactivity. They often allow you to create, edit, or manipulate data and content.

You are most likely using web apps every day. Email services, text editors like Google Docs, messengers, etc. With the development of technology, web apps are becoming increasingly more sophisticated and feature-rich. You can find complex graphic design tools or video editors that work right in your browser as well as professional applications for project management, enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relations management (CRM), and much more.

When speaking about cross-platform software, web apps are often at the forefront of the discussion. It makes sense since most devices have a browser that can access them. That and the growth of progressive web app technology are the reason why web solutions have been dominating the software market. Even if you’re not familiar with GitLab or GitHub you know Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon. All of them are web applications, which says a lot about the popularity of this technology.

Web App Advantages

No Need for Installation

Web applications can be launched by simply going to the right URL. This makes it quick and easy to start working with the app whenever you need to. There are no big files on your hard drive taking up storage space and you can access it from any device. For some tools, you need to have a registered account to allow you to save your work and access other features. But many others work right out of the gate. Whatever the case may be, with web apps you never need to wait for the download and installation to be completed to use them and that simply makes your life easier.

Automatic Updates

Having to manually download and install updates on a regular basis is a hassle. There are no two ways about it. Even when the program automatically downloads them for you, you still need to approve it, wait a bit, and relaunch the app. It sounds like a small thing, but you’d be surprised how much time is saved when the updates are automatic and whenever you open an application it’s always the latest stable version.

Cross-Platform Availability

For the vast majority of web applications, the only prerequisite is internet access. They aren’t reliant on the hardware and system specifications to run. As a result, you can launch them from whatever device or platform that has a web browser. Since the components that are responsible for the app functionality are on the server, it doesn’t matter whether you launch it from Windows, Mac, Linux, or anything else.

Mobile Access

Related to the previous point, platform-independence also means mobility. This means most web applications can also run on mobile devices. Depending on the nature and the functionality of the program, it can sometimes be limited due to the size of the screen or less precise navigation. For example, a complex multi-track audio mastering web studio would be better suited for a screen larger than a phone. But the vast majority of enterprise web solutions function perfectly well regardless of the system. This allows you to take your work anywhere and still keep your finger on the pulse of your business processes.

Light on Computer Resources

Web services eat up significantly less processing power. Certainly, your browser still runs on your computer, and the more tabs you have open, the more memory is used. However, it’s nowhere near comparable to the desktop apps in that regard. Not everyone has a powerful PC. Not being able to do your job because of the technical limitations of your machine is frustrating. Web applications work pretty much the same regardless of how expensive your processor is.

Web App Disadvantages

Security Threats

Whenever any data is located somewhere on a remote server, the question of security arises. How do you know that the vendor has the proper safety measures in place? And for many it is a gamble. That’s why you need to be extra careful with sensitive data. But that goes for most situations and not just with web services. It just so happens that web servers are a preferred target for potential attackers rather than any individual personal computer.

Dependence on Internet Access

There’s no doubt that access to the internet has never been more reliable. But there’s no guarantee that it won’t let you down in the most crucial moment when you’re already pushing the deadline, for example. A lot of modern software solutions have safeguards against that. Once they are loaded in the browser, they can tap into the client-side memory whenever you disconnect. This allows you to continue working and automatically update the server-side databases wherever the connection is restored.

Potentially Slower Than Desktop Equivalents

When discussing the advantages we have described how the web apps don’t drain your PC resources. That’s the flip side of that argument. By not having access to as much processing power, the applications are naturally slower in comparison to the desktop equivalents. Then again, not every program requires it. Text editors, for example, are simple enough to run fast both on the web platforms and on desktop.

Occasional Predatory Monetization

Businesses need to make money. It’s perfectly understandable. Enterprise software is expensive regardless of the platform. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers often employ tactics that make you spend extra. It often comes in the form of extremely useful or quality-of-life features locked behind a paywall. Once you are accustomed and used to the service it starts pushing you to spend even more. It’s more noticeable in certain genres of web apps like games and enterprise tools. But the SaaS model can be implemented fairly and beneficially to its users. You can read more about it here.

Desktop App vs Web App: Comparative Analysis

Desktop App Advantages

No Internet Access Required

As widespread as it is, the internet is yet to reach 100% reliability. In some locations, it is less accessible and many ISPs (internet service providers) have poor connection stability. Not to mention, the autonomous mode described earlier is not universal for all web apps. That’s the strong suit of desktop ones, however. Once the application is on your PC you can use it whenever you need to without any connection lag.

Matters of Privacy

If you take intellectual property security especially seriously then desktop apps are the way to go. The less sensitive data appears on the different clouds the better. Considering that when you’re on the web, practically everything you do is tracked in some way, desktop services are more secure in that regard.

Alternative Payment Model

For the vast majority of paid desktop apps once you buy it it’s yours. There are no monthly payments or subscriptions. As a trade-off, such programs are usually more expensive. Also, it’s important to note that if you have multiple systems or need an app to be installed on every PC in your office it may end up costing a small fortune depending on the bought solution.

Better Performance

When compared to web applications, desktop ones have undoubtedly better performance. The same operations are completed faster and the range of features is often larger. The performance is not always noticeable or needed since so many web services don’t require much power. However, the more complex ones can really lag where desktop alternatives have no issue. This is achieved by leveraging the resources of the computer itself.


Optimal Use of Computer Resources

By using the processing power of a PC, desktop apps can perform a range of features that is not feasible for a web application. For example, pushing the graphical processing unit (GPU) to the max for the latest video game or the rendering of a 3D model.

No Ongoing Hosting Costs

This point describes custom software. If you have developed a web application you need to pay for the hosting yourself. Depending on the amount of data it stores and processes, it can end up being quite expensive. These costs are eliminated by choosing a desktop app. However, you still may need a web page with a download link, but it’s nowhere near the costs of hosting a web app.

Desktop App Disadvantages

Not Portable

As the name suggests, desktop apps are fixed to your working desk. Not literally, of course, you can still use them on a laptop whenever you please. However, it’s still fixed to one system. You can’t just login on someone else’s PC and continue working as you can with web applications.

Hard Drive Space

Both the program itself and the files it produces are stored on your hard drive. Some applications may not use much, but tools like video recorders and graphic editors can take gigabytes. The prolific you are in their use the less free space you’ll have.

Mandatory Installation

Every single desktop application has to be installed on your computer. Not only does it mean that you can’t just load it up and use it whenever, but it also means that it takes up space. In addition, some files may remain even after uninstallation if you don’t need the tool anymore. It’s not much but it can get annoying fast.

Manual Updates

Web apps are always up-to-date. The newest version is automatically pushed to the users when the app is launched. This is not the case for desktop software. It can notify you that an update is available but you still have to manually download and install it.

Deployment for Each PC

We mentioned this drawback before but it is the deciding factor in favor of custom software for a big percentage of our clients. Since we at Digital Skynet focus on enterprise software development, our customers often tell us how expensive it was to deploy off-the-shelf software for every single PC in their office. You need to buy a new pricy copy for each system. That’s why many companies elected to pay for custom software and eliminate these licensing fees altogether.

Commodo Screenshot

The Success of Our Clients

Expanding on the experience of our clients, we’d like to tell you about one of our projects. Commodo is an extension of our trading and brokerage CRM that monitors financial quotations. Implementing progressive web app (PWA) technology allowed us to expand the functionally of the original web service.

The features included in Commodo range from gathering statistics on service usage frequency and the number of requests sent to the broker to scraping market information and sending notifications to any device with the updated quotes. All of that is available within any browser so the trader can get relevant information that can make them money. If you’ve ever been involved with brokerage, you know how much of a difference a few minutes can make. That’s why a web solution was the smartest choice for the product since you can access it anytime and anyplace.

In Conclusion

As you can see, the desktop app vs web app choice is not an easy one. Each approach definitely has its place in the software development sector. However, to fully capitalize on the benefits you need to not only know the specifics of your project, but also the ins and outs of each type of development. We hope this article has shed some light on this topic. But if you have questions you can always request a consultation from experts who’ll tell you everything you need to know in greater detail.

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