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15 Desktop vs Web Application Pros and Cons

There is an excellent chance that you have used a desktop application sometime in the recent past. You may even have one up on your computer right now. These are programs like Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop, and Apple’s Safari. You can find them almost everywhere providing about every kind of potential use to help users achieve the outcomes they want when working.

Over the past two decades, another option has begun to appear for computer users as well. They are web applications that users interact with when they have their preferred web browser active on their desktop. They function like a desktop application, but these apps don’t require people to install software or download anything to use the program. They’re installed on the server with the web browser instead.

You will find that people are passionate about both options. It is not unusual for computer users to access both resources multiple times throughout each day. There are also times when one is a better option than the other. That is why a careful evaluation of the desktop vs. web application pros and cons can help you to make the correct decision today.

List of the Pros of a Desktop vs. Web Application

1. Desktop applications offer offline capabilities.

If you have Microsoft Word downloaded on your computer, then you can access this app at any time whenever you need to work. Your desktop allows you to stay functional without a data connection. When your work is located in a web app, then you need to have a data connection available to ensure there is availability for the program. That is why many users have both options available. This structure makes it possible to stay functional at any time, reducing the number of unproductive moments that exist.

2. Desktop applications offer more security.

Desktop applications give you the option of working offline so that automatically gives it a benefit over web apps. If you are working on something sensitive, then you can unplug your LAN or Wi-Fi and never need to worry about a threat again. In some instances, you could even install a disc with the program and never need to go online to have it work.

With a web app, you are always exposed to the potential of an Internet threat. Hackers could get into your information to use it for their own advantage. Your data always has more exposure because you’re not always saving information locally either. There are some programs where this issue may not apply – do you care if someone hacks into your Sudoku? But if there is intellectual property being shared, a desktop app is probably the better choice in that circumstance.

3. Desktop applications rely on your computer speed.

If you have a really fast computer and a super slow internet or data connection, then a desktop application will have a significant advantage. It works with the memory and processing power of your local resources to give you a positive user experience. When you’re working with a web app, then the outcomes you experience are directly attributed to your internet connectivity and speed. If your connection is poor, then that will be a reflection of your productivity levels too. The stand-alone nature of the desktop gives it a significant advantage in this area.

4. Desktop applications are cheaper from a long-term perspective.

When you purchase a desktop application, then you will usually have a higher capital expense than if you buy a web app or subscription to use. When you compare the costs over the lifetime of the program, the one-time cost is usually cheaper than the ongoing payments you might be forced to shell out to continue having access to your web app. There are rarely any maintenance fees to worry about and you stay in control of whatever upgrades you think are necessary when opting for the desktop option.

5. Desktop applications allow you to run older versions of the program.

If you haven’t upgraded your computer for 10 years, then there is an excellent chance that the programs you wish to operate will not function on your current system. Windows 10 is a very different experience when compared to Windows 98! If you have an old version of Microsoft Word that you want to use that is compatible with the older operating system, then you can still take full advantage of its functionality. You might not receive tech support for troubleshooting in that situation, but the pros definitely outweigh the cons.

You could access web applications from an older computer as well, but it may also not work as intended. The web app would be much slower than the older desktop app, which would reduce your overall productivity levels.

6. Desktop applications do not require third-party support for backups.

When you are saving a file on your desktop, then your SSD or HDD supports the information on your behalf. As long as the equipment is functioning as it should, then you can access your data whenever the need arises. This benefit is not always available when you work with web apps. If the server is not available for some reason, then you will not have access to the information that you want.

You are not forced into a position where you must trust the actions of unknown third parties to protect the integrity of your files when you choose a desktop app.

7. Desktop applications do not create questions of ownership.

When you save files to your computer from an application, then there is no question about the ownership of the file. You created it, and then initiated the command to save. It will always be considered data that is your personal property. If you are saving information through a web app, then the outcome might be very different.

Take this paragraph from the terms of service when using Google Drive for personal needs. “When you upload, submit, store, send, or receive content to or through Google Drive, you give Google a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works, communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display, and distribute such content.” That means the company can use the information you store in almost any way they choose without compensating you for it. The only way to prevent this from happening is to delete your content.

8. Desktop applications do not create questions of legality.

Let’s use the Google Drive example here again. You and a friend are working on a song together, collaborating through the use of saves through this mechanism. Then you upload the lyrics of a song that you really like that the Red Hot Chili Peppers perform because you want the pattern of your words to follow the same rhythm. If you do not have the necessary rights to grant the worldwide license to Google for this information, then there may be legal issues that could get you into some trouble.

Desktop applications do not carry the same threat. Because you are using direct saves for your content, no one will try to use your uploads for self-promotion. You get to stay in control of your work – but make sure you don’t plagiarize when you do eventually publish!

9. Desktop applications don’t force you into an upgrade.

Web applications can force you into upgrades without consent because it is part of the automatic updating process. If the program doesn’t function as it should after the update, then you are stuck in a world of zero productivity. Desktop apps don’t force this on you. Although you can set it as an option within the program if you want, these option allows you to maintain the integrity of your work because it doesn’t contain the initial bugs of the other option.

List of the Cons of a Desktop vs. a Web Application

1. Web applications only require one installation.

When you are using a web application, then there is only one installation process that you need to go through before you can start using the product. Desktop apps often require multiple updates to continue using their best functions. Although you can often use the desktop option under its previous form without an update, it eventually won’t provide the full functionality that you may require. With a web app, you just visit the address through your browser and you’re good to go.

2. Web applications apply to all of your computers.

Although one computer is enough to serve an entire family, a Lifehacker poll from 2011 shows that is rarely what family life is like today. Only 8% of the 14,000+ respondents said that there was just one device at home. Roughly 22% said that they owned two computers, while 23% said that they owned three. Over 31% of the participants said that they owned 5 or more computers.

When you are using a web application, then there is never a need to update web applications. If you need to work on something, the program is available with your saved work no matter what computer you use – although sometimes you might need to use the same browser. When using a desktop app, then you must update each installation separately to ensure your productivity levels remain the same.

3. Web applications are cheaper from a short-term perspective.

If you have a specific job where you might need the services of an app for a month or two, then a web application is usually your better option. It offers a lower initial price because of its subscription-based model, allowing you to get your work finished without the higher initial cost of the desktop program. Some models even offer a free trial that will help you to get through your tasks without an expense.

Desktop applications work exceptionally well if you plan to use the program on a long-term basis. If you do not have this need, then a web app might be the better choice.

4. Web applications are easier for multiple users.

When you want to have a collaboration effort with multiple individuals, then a web application is a lot easier to manage. There may be licensing issues involved for the number of people who can access the program at once, but it is also something that everyone can access from their assigned station. When they need to get together to work, then everyone with permission can log into the system.

Desktop applications require a separate installation for each station. Although that typically grants a license for use, there are the additional costs of managing the IT requirements while balancing the higher capital expense. If someone doesn’t have the program on their desktop, then they have no way to join the collaborative effort.

5. Web applications have fewer operating system requirements.

When you have a web application from which to work, then you can access the program through almost any browser or operating system. Your account remains in the cloud, which means the data or Internet connection is more critical to a successful experience than your software or hardware. With a desktop app, you must meet specific tech requirements to ensure that the program remains functional for you.

Although both apps can struggle with older, under-powered computers, you will generally have better access to the most up-to-date version of a program with a web app compared to desktop applications.

6. Web applications give you all of the upgrades.

If you are running a copy of Microsoft 2007 on your desktop, then you must pay to upgrade to a different version of the program to take advantage of the new features that have come out since then. When you subscribe to a web app, then you receive the upgrades to the software as the development team rolls them out. All of the upgrades occur through the server as well, which means you can access them immediately without a download.

That’s why hybrid programs that offer web and desktop app features are becoming so popular today. You gain the benefit of having access to online resources wherever you happen to be, the chance to save files to the cloud, or the option to download the resource to your computer and save locally.

The pros and cons of desktop vs. web applications often come down to what your preference and purpose is for the program. If you have concerns about security and accessibility, then the desktop option is usually the better choice. When you want speed and portability, then web apps can offer what you want. At the end of the day, it is helpful to have both options available on your computer to ensure that you can always find a way to get your work finished with the quality that you want.

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