For quite some time there has been a running debate about the possibility of
desktop software applications being replaced by web applications. While some functions are better suited to web
applications, I believe that security concerns and legacy systems will
prevent the obsolescence of desktop software packages.
Some argue that the debate between web applications and desktop applications is
pointless, as their is no clear answer. Still others make the case that the issue
at hand is as much a business and marketing issue as a technological
What is the difference between a web application and a desktop application?
A web application is software that is delivered to users from a web server like
the Internet. Some businesses run web applications on an intranet as well. Web
applications are becoming more popular due to the widespread use of the web
browser as a client.
Some applications are better suited and more likely to become successful as web
applications. Web applications designed specifically for search engine
optimization, have become increasingly popular. It is easy to understand why web
applications that relate to the Internet would prosper, while business
applications may have less appeal in a web environment.
A desktop application is a self-contained program that performs a defined set of
tasks under the user control. Desktop applications run from a local drive and do
not require a network or connectivity to operate or function properly, though if
attached to a network desktop applications might use the resources of the
Pros and Cons to Desktop and Web Applications:
- Wide Accessibility - Web applications can be easily accessed from any computer
or location that has Internet access. Travelers especially benefit from the
accessibility. This often means that if a traveler has access to a computer,
phone or handheld with Internet connectivity they can utilize the web
- Low Maintenance & Forced Upgrades - Desktop applications need to be individually
installed on each computer, while web applications require a single
Many web applications are hosted by a 3rd party and the maintenance fall under
the applications hosts responsibility. The ability to update and maintain web
applications without distributing and installing software on potentially
thousands of client computers is a key reason for the popularity of web based
This can be a blessing and a curse as users of web applications on hosted
systems are at the mercy of the host, if an upgrade does not go well, or the
individual user doesn't want or need the new features the upgrade will still go
- Increased Security Risks - There are always risks involved when dealing with
working online, regardless of how secure a host might say a web application is,
that fact of the matter stands that the security risk of running an application
of the Internet is more significant than when running an application on a
standalone desktop computer.
Some applications require more security than others, playing Sudoku on a web
application would cause little concern, but dealing with sensitive corporate
formulas or accounting details in a web environment might be determined risky.
- Cost - Over the life of the software use, web applications are typically
significantly more expensive over time. Desktop applications are purchased
outright and rarely is their a recurring fee for the software use. Some desktop
applications do have maintenance fees or fee based upgrades associated with
them, but rarely is there a subscription fee associated with the software's
Many corporate web applications use a different model, users typically are
charged monthly service fee to operate the software. Fees are considered
"subscription fees". If you fail to renew your subscription you may be unable to
access the data stored in the web application.
- Internet Connectivity - Web applications rely on persistent and unmanaged
connectivity. If you do not have an Internet connection or if your host does not
have Internet connectivity you cannot access the information. Critical
applications or businesses that are time sensitive cannot risk denial of service
attacks or power outages to interrupt their operations and access data that is
- Slower Performance - Web applications that rely on the Internet to transfer data
rather than a computer's local hard drive, may operate slower. The speed may
also vary based on number of users accessing the application.
- Backups and Ownership - Regardless of the platform, companies need to be sure that
their data is appropriately backed up. When using a web application that are
hosted by a third party, companies should clearly determine who owns the data
housed in the application, and be sure that privacy policies prevent that data
from being used by the web host.
Ultimately the accessibility of web based applications make them very desirable.
Web applications have some fundamental limitations in their functionality, and
are better suited for specific tasks. Understanding the pro's and con's to each
business model, will help users determine whether a desktop application or web
application will better suit their needs.
About the Author:
Sharon Housley is the marketing manager for
FeedForAll, software for
creating, editing, and publishing RSS feeds and podcasts as well as
NotePage, a wireless text
messaging software company.
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