Alex Kirpichny

Alexandr Kirpichny

Chief Product Officer, Ispirer Systems

Desktop or web application: it seems to many that this game has been over for a long time and the winner is known. For several decades, desktop applications have continued to sink into oblivion, giving way to more flexible web applications. According to statistics, in 2022 users downloaded 142.6 billion apps, which is 0.6% less than in 2021, which demonstrates a slight decrease in popularity of desktop applications.

However, some companies today are moving from the web to the desktop, such as Trello or Wrike. So, what is a web-based application, and how is it different from a desktop program?

In this article we’ll give answers to all of these questions. Also we will try to weigh up all the pros and cons of both web-based and desktop applications and provide insights whether the conversion to the web is worth the effort.

Desktop or web: what you should know about these applications

Desktop to web application migration is a tough nut to crack. We will explore this topic both from the user's and the company's perspectives in order to fully understand all the pitfalls.

Before weighing up all the pros and cons of desktop and web applications, it’s necessary to have a clear understanding of what web-based and desktop apps are.

Web apps are software programs hosted on remote servers that are accessed through web browsers via a network connection. Browser-based applications do not require installation on the user's device because they operate within the browser environment. For example, Google Docs is a popular web app that allows users to create, edit, and share documents without having to install any software on their computer. By accessing the service through a web browser, users can take advantage of working on the projects without the need for additional software or hardware.

The term ‘desktop application’ refers to software that runs on your laptop, desktop, or other computer device. In most cases it works without an Internet connection, but you should install it on your computer device to use it.

Back in the day, desktop apps development was tailored to a single user before data sharing was even a thought. Early on in the 1990s, most small businesses had only one computer. In those days, everything was stored locally, and that was fine - modern technology of that time offered nothing better.

With the development of local area networks (LANs), data sharing became possible, which was better than nothing at all. A dramatic change in the landscape occurred with the widespread adoption of the Internet. Suddenly, people could access applications from anywhere in the world, but not every app was designed to handle this new paradigm.

Such a sudden development of technologies made companies transform their desktop applications into web applications in order to connect to their customers.

Advantages of desktop apps

  • No Internet required. Offline access is one of the biggest advantages of desktop apps. The user is able to run an app wherever they want to, regardless of the Internet coverage.
  • Data security. When using a desktop app all the data is stored locally on the computer. The app creates an additional security layer for sensitive information, in comparison to the web apps where all the data rely on cloud-based storage.
  • High Performance. Due to the fact that desktop applications are installed locally they are often faster and more responsive than web based apps. Basically, they can utilize the computer's full processing power, which results in faster response times and better performance.
  • A ton of opportunities. Unlike web apps, desktop applications show better results in integrating with other software installed on the computer, such as drivers, or databases. They also provide better integration with system features and capabilities while working with files and folders or utilizing such advanced devices as touch screens or stylus input.

Disadvantages of desktop apps

  • Installation is necessary. Before starting to use a desktop application you should download and install it. Moreover, you should consider such aspects as operating system, RAM, processor and others, which makes installation a bit more difficult and expensive. As a general rule, desktop applications provide application codes that are designed to a specific operating system or hardware, which may be an obstacle for installing the application on a large number of computers.
  • Hard drive space required. Often desktop applications take a lot of space on the hard disc which can cause certain issues on old devices with limited storage capacity. The easiest approach to solve such an issue is to upgrade the hard disc and expand its capacity. However, it can require additional costs.
  • Manual updates. Compared to web-based applications which are updated automatically, desktop applications require manual effort to check, download and install updates. Some apps provide notifications about pending updates, but certain manual activity is still required.

Advantages of web apps

  • No installation. One of the main reasons for migrating desktop apps to web apps is to eliminate the necessity of installing the app on every device you want to use them on. Most of them require only Internet access and a browser. An undoubtful advantage is that such apps save the client’s storage space. In addition, fewer resources are utilized, which makes a web app a preferred choice for both end-users and organizations. Some apps require you to register an account to save your progress and provide you with other features, but it's an easy and fast procedure.
  • Less load on the system. Launching a web app does not require a modern and powerful machine. It is only necessary to have a web browser installed. Despite the increased memory usage caused by opening more browser tabs, web apps typically use less processor power than a desktop app. Therefore, even if your computer is weak or your hardware is outdated, you can still use your web app.
  • Cross-platform compatibility. The development of a desktop app is usually aimed at a specific operational system. In contrast to them, web-based apps can be accessed from any device that is connected to the Internet. It is especially useful for organizations with a large number of computers, as they can access the same app simultaneously without any compatibility issues.
  • Accessibility. The convenience of accessing web-based applications from any device with an internet connection and a web browser makes them the best choice for remote workers or mobile users. Businesses with remote employees can benefit from a web-based app since they can be accessed from anywhere.
  • Collaborative. Application vendors usually make collaboration a key factor for development of a web-based application. Teams can collaborate on projects or share information more easily when multiple users can access the same app simultaneously. This can increase productivity and improve communication between team members.
  • Automatic updates. In most cases, updates and patches are installed automatically for web-based applications, which means users don't have to worry about manually updating them. This ensures that the app is always up-to-date and secure, and reduces the risk of compatibility issues or software bugs.

Disadvantages of web apps

  • Internet connection required. Web apps rely entirely on an internet connection to function properly. If the internet connection is slow or unstable, the app may run slowly. Additionally, if there is no internet connection, the application cannot be accessed at all.
  • Slow performance. Unlike desktop applications, web-based apps may potentially work slowly. Their dependence on the Internet connection may sometimes degrade the performance.
  • Security risks. Since a web app is accessed over the internet, it is vulnerable to security risks such as hacking and data breaches. These risks can be mitigated with proper security measures, but they are still a concern for many businesses and users.

9 reasons why it's worth converting a desktop app to a web app

Having understood all the pros and cons of both app types, it’s time to provide our arguments of migrating from desktop to web. All the reasons given below are meant to demonstrate the migration benefits for companies, and enterprises owning applications.

1. Accessibility

Web-based applications are more flexible in comparison with desktop alternatives thanks to its ability to be accessed anywhere and anytime. Users can access the app from their desktop computer at work, their laptop at home, or even their smartphone or tablet while on the go. Such accessibility to the app from anywhere can be particularly beneficial for mobile users or those who need to work remotely and collaborate with others who are located in different geographic locations.

Another benefit of increased accessibility is that it can improve productivity and efficiency. Since users can access the app from anywhere, they can work on important tasks and projects even if they're not physically in the office. This can be especially helpful for businesses that have employees who often go on business trips or work from home.

2. Installation is not required

Installation of desktop applications can be time-consuming and often requires administrative privileges, making it difficult for users to access the app on shared computers or in workplace environments. As long as the user has a web browser, they can access the app from anywhere without installing anything.

3. Automatic Updates

Automatic updates ensure that all users engage with the same version of the application, which eliminates compatibility issues and reduces the risk of bugs and security vulnerabilities. Besides being convenient to users, automatic updates make it easier for companies to support applications, since everyone uses the same app version.

4. Application modernization on the way to the web

Switching your app to the web provides you with all the opportunities of a web app. What is more, this process may come in parallel with application modernization, which is especially beneficial for enterprises with desktop applications written in legacy languages. Migrating to a more modern and convenient programming language will simplify enhancing and maintaining your application.

5. Cross-platform compatibility

As it has been stated above, web applications are usually designed to work across different platforms and devices, which can make them more flexible and adaptable for different users. Companies can benefit from developing a platform-independent web app since it is much easier and cheaper than developing several versions of a desktop app for different operating systems.

6. Deployment

Connecting new users to a web application is very simple, while desktop applications require individual installations on each device. The same applies to updates: desktop apps require manual updating on each device by each user. This process can be time-consuming and cumbersome, especially when updating multiple applications on a large number of computers is required.

7. Cost efficiency

Hardware performance may not always be sufficient for desktop applications, especially in companies with a large number of computers. Web-based applications do not normally have high hardware performance requirements which provides an opportunity to save up on computers.

When there is a large volume of data to be stored and processed, developing a web application is considerably beneficial. Scaling the backend of a web application is much easier than providing high performance to each user by upgrading their computers. Also users do not need expensive and powerful hardware since servers can handle everything.

8. Sales boost

Sometimes enterprises that own proprietary applications may experience difficulties selling them. This can be attributed to the fact that desktop software often requires a one-time payment, which may be perceived as expensive by some customers. To overcome this challenge, companies can consider switching to web to implement more attractive pricing strategies to make the initial payment more appealing to customers.

One approach to do this is by offering subscription payment plans, which is possible with web applications. This model allows customers to pay for the software on a recurring basis, such as monthly or annually, rather than making a large one-time payment. This approach can make the software more affordable and accessible to a broader range of customers, ultimately increasing sales and revenue for the company.

9. Collaboration options

Web applications typically include features that support collaboration, such as real-time chat, commenting, and editing tools. These features allow team members to communicate and work on projects together, making it easier to stay on track, share information, and complete tasks efficiently. Additionally, web applications can be customized to meet the unique needs of different teams or organizations, making them an ideal solution for businesses of all sizes.

How to convert a desktop app to a web-based app

Transition from desktop to the web can sometimes be a challenging project. Such a complicated process requires careful planning. Converting a desktop application to a web application requires a thoughtful analysis of both technical and business requirements, as well as a high level of expertise in web app development. With these factors in mind, the resulting web app will be of high quality, cost-efficient, and scalable.

If you are looking for a service that will provide a smooth switch to the web, you should definitely consider Ispirer desktop app migration services. The Ispirer team consists of highly qualified experts in app migration and app development with years of experience.

Prior to the migration, we provide an in-depth analysis of the existing desktop app and evaluate future improvements. We develop a plan with the necessary modernization features and test the converted application to measure its performance. Contact us and get an expert consultation on the migration of your desktop application.