We are increasingly moving toward computer architectures where software is virtualised in some way. It may not be held in a server room we can physically see and access, but somewhere out there, provided by a cloud services such as AWS, Azure or Google Cloud.
Therefore, most application development or solution selection process today starts with the assumption that a cloud or web solution is the right or even the only way to go. When internet connection is almost everywhere, and people are actively using mobile devices for many different purposes, often this may be the right answer. But there is still a place for desktop applications and they are not going to disappear anytime soon.
Determining the right kind of application revolves largely around usability: where, when and how a task is to be completed and what level of user interaction is desirable. And these requirements may be very different for different tasks and different users within a workflow. There are fantastic examples of both desktop and “web-based” applications on the software market, but each approach has its place and its strengths and its weaknesses.
Here we will consider a web/cloud application as one that runs on a remote server and interacts with its users through a browser-based UI. Desktop applications are installed onto the local machine and run locally.
For both software providers and those looking to purchase a solution it is important to look thoroughly at different factors and compare the pros and cons of both types of application before making a decision on which is best, or even whether one approach will indeed adequately fit all requirements.
Where the web offers advantages such as ease of deployment and upgrade, platform independence (although not necessarily browser independence) and mobile access. Desktop can offer some performance benefit, better use of & access to computer resources, advantages in usability through the use of native features such as application menus, tray icons, key bindings and notification services. We shall leave the murky world of security, privacy, integration etc. to one side for now.
But the rather unsatisfying conclusion is that the decision whether to go for a desktop or a web-based solution is a complex one. And ultimately, particularly with regard to large scale enterprise software solutions encompassing multiple complex workflows, tasks and interfaces; in the current climate it may never be possible to make a perfect decision.
This is especially true as requirements, use cases, tasks and technologies continually evolve and change over time – unfortunately no-one can predict the future precisely.
Therefore, the most important thing is to maintain flexibility. This means selecting a technology stack that can largely be used by both approaches, enabling both worlds to be mixed on a per use case and task-oriented basis. It will also provide the opportunity for functionality to “switch over” at a later date if and when requirements, complexities and/or technologies dictate or allow.
For us at MSA Focus, we recognise that there are a number of tasks and requirements that are ideally suited to some form of “web-app”: Ad-sales proposal submissions direct from clients or agents or from reps working in the field; spot placement requests, and obviously reporting. Even potential programme acquisition offers could be submitted directly via a web interface.
This is where ForeTV Pulse Extensions come into their own, companion apps offering security-controlled access to web and mobile tools to perform particular tasks without compromising the primary tasks of planning and manual log manipulation and finalisation for which the desktop application is superior.
Using common server-side processing and data access to serve different presentation layers/methods, allows the provision of real-time data exchange between “apps” without compromising performance, user-interaction and latency for the more intensive, and usually office-based tasks; while also unshackling other users and their ability to consume task-related information from the traditional office desktop.
This flexibility allows for the best of both worlds, without preventing future evolution to a more web-centric solution as technology, usability and UI provision, workflow requirements and tasks evolve.