Smackdown: Browser-based Apps vs. Desktop Apps

Richard MacManus is running a poll at the Read / Write Web to determine whether people prefer desktop or browser apps. A day later, the results so far show that 62% prefer browser-based apps while 38% prefer webified desktop apps.

Judging by the comments, people fall into a few camps:

  • Desktop-based code is faster:
    “I have no clue who could possibly prefer web-based applications over ones running on your own computer. Native code, faster rendering, more memory, more bandwidth… how could ‘oooh, how neat, it works in my browser’ compete with any of those?” (Comment 1 from Mike Rundle)

  • I need to share my apps across multiple computers:
    “Well, I use five different computers on any given day, four windows XP and one Mac. You tell me how on earth am I going to enjoy apps running on any one of those PCs” (Comment 2 from hombrelobo)

  • Both are great for different reasons:
    “Basically what I’m saying is that certain apps (like productivity apps) are better suited for the Web, where production apps still have their place on my hard drive. So choosing between them is a little like choosing between my children, or maybe more like choosing between my cars, or maybe more like choosing room to take a nap in.” (Comment 8 from Steve Swedler)

In today’s world of near constant connectivity where work, home, coffee shops and airports are increasingly enabled for wireless, I tend to lean heavily toward browser-based apps. I am essentially forced to use Microsoft Outlook / Office / Communicator as part of the work environment; however, these are not the apps that I would select given a choice, and my personal usage tends to be browser-based with only a few exceptions. I almost always have Gmail, Meebo (IM), and Netvibes (RSS reader) open in Firefox tabs, and I use Google calendar, Blogger, and Remember The Milk (task list) at least daily. I also use a couple of desktop apps every day, mostly OpenOffice.org and iTunes (podcasts), but not nearly as often as I use the browser-based apps.

This is a drastic change from a few years ago when connectivity was far from constant. I tended to prefer desktop apps to keep my data available when I was offline. Now, I find that the need to be connected is nearly ubiquitous. Even when reading email offline, people have embedded links to relevant information requiring a network connection to finish reading many of my emails. Over the past 6 months or so, the only time I usually find myself without any network connection is on airplanes. This just gives me an excuse to catch up on reading.

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One Response to Smackdown: Browser-based Apps vs. Desktop Apps

  1. Josh Bancroft says:

    I’m definitely in the web apps camp. I live in Firefox – Bloglines for reading my 1000+ feeds, Gmail, Flickr, and my blogs. If I need a Word doc or Spreadsheet (which I hardly ever do), there’s Writely or Google Spreadsheet. And I want to migrate to Google Calendar, but I’m shackled to Outlook/Exchange at work.

    The main reason I like web apps is that I, too, use multiple computers throughout the day, hopping between Mac and Windows. The fact that I can have the same “experience” available on either platform, plus access everything via the web on my PDA phone, cinches it for an information addict like me.

    There are still some areas where a desktop application is the only way to go, though. Digital Photo management and editing, audio recording and editing, and video editing are quite at home in desktop apps. But maybe web apps (and available bandwidth) will keep improving to where even those work well in web apps. One can dream, no?

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