As browsers and mobile devices have become more powerful, desktop applications have experienced a consistent decline, replaced by web and mobile applications. Despite this many sectors use them as their main resource and would not change it to any other form. Additionali, there are several advantages to creating desktop applications, including their constant availability from the start menu or dock and their ability to integrate more seamlessly with the underlying operating system, allowing for shortcuts and notifications.
In this article, we would like to walk you through the pros and cons, challenges and most common frameworks of desktop applications.
Desktop applications vs. Web-based applications
Web-based applications, as the name implies, are programs accessed through the internet. When accessed through a browser, the application’s functionality is delivered from a remote server to your device and is not installed on your machine.
On the other hand, desktop applications are programs that are downloaded and installed on your device, with all the necessary components stored locally. This allows you to access the application directly from your desktop.
Each of the solutions has different advantages that meet distinct needs.
The benefits of desktop applications are:
- Users can access them offline
- Considered safer due to local data storage
- Processes are typically faster
On the other hand Web-based applications have the features desktop apps lack:
- Don’t require high processing power
- Accessible from any device with an internet connection without needing installation
- Simpler and ideal for small businesses and startups
Overall, desktop apps are suited for mid-sized companies and enterprises, while web-based apps are geared toward small businesses and growing startups.
Some applications, such as Slack and Miro or Spotify, offer both desktop and web-based versions as well as mobile, providing the best of both worlds.
Why choose desktop applications?
Desktop applications offer several benefits, making them the preferred choice for many enterprises. Here’s why:
1. Network independence
Desktop applications are not dependent on network connectivity, making them more reliable than web-based applications. Interruptions in internet connectivity can seriously affect internal procedures and customer-facing business processes when using web-based apps. With desktop software, you have control over your environment and can avoid situations you can’t control.
2. Security and Compliance
Secondly, it is more secure than web-based software. With desktop apps, you have full control over your data since it is not exposed on the web. This makes storing confidential business information and customer data safer on your own server. Unlike files saved in the cloud, content stored on your PC cannot be easily hacked or leaked to the web. By choosing desktop applications, you can reduce the risk of security threats.
Lastly, they are faster and more capable of handling complex tasks than web-based apps. High-quality desktop software combined with a powerful device can perform tasks such as financial operations, rendering, and trading more effectively. Desktop applications are the best choice when it comes to processes that require high speed and efficiency.
In addition to the above reasons, desktop software can offer users a more seamless and integrated experience. With a desktop app, you can take advantage of system-level features such as shortcuts, notifications, and integrations with other software installed on your device. All these advantages make desktop software the go-to choice for enterprises, especially those handling sensitive data or complex operations.
Challenges of the desktop app development
Desktop applications can be a great addition to your business, but they’re not without their challenges. Here are a few things to consider before investing:
- Constant updates
Desktop software isn’t self-updating like web-based apps. You’ll need to manually update the software to access the latest features, which can be time-consuming and disruptive to your workflow.
- Integration challenges
Integrating a desktop app with other technologies can be difficult and often requires technical expertise. Unlike web apps that can easily integrate with third-party tools, desktop apps often require built-in integration options or software like Zapier.
- Limited accessibility
Desktop apps can only be accessed on devices where they’re installed, which can be problematic if you need to access the software while away from your main device.
- Server management
Desktop applications often require a managed server to store data, which can be expensive and add to your IT team’s workload.
- Employee onboarding
Onboarding and training employees on desktop applications can be time-consuming, as the software can be complex and challenging to navigate. You’ll need to develop a detailed training program to ensure your team can use the software effectively.
- Resource requirements
Some desktop applications require potent machines to run effectively, which can be costly for all employees.
All that said, desktop applications still offer a range of benefits that make them worthwhile for many businesses. Just ensure you know the challenges before you make the investment.
How to build desktop applications?
Since you know the advantages and the challenges of the desktop application, it is finally time to explain how they can be built.
1. Setting Requirements:
In this step, let’s start with understanding your business needs and analysing the market. It’s best to set the functional scope of the future app, including user roles, content, and permission matrix, to formulate high-level project requirements. It’s also good to document the app’s value, target audience, disadvantages of similar existing solutions, advantages over competitors, development risks and constraints, and success metrics. Then select the desktop platform(s) and provide reasons for targeting them. This step is highly crucial and cannot be skipped or overlooked. Read more about its step and importance from the perspective of our Project Manager, Kamil Arsoba in SolveQ.
2. Project planning:
After outlining the desktop development scope and objectives, you or the project manager should set a project management plan that suggests the necessary design and development efforts while considering business risks and constraints.
3. Software design and planning:
In this step, you aim for final documentation that thoroughly describes the future development process. Acknowledge software requirements specification that defines the app’s purpose, overall description, use cases for different user roles, functional and non-functional requirements, key modules, and their interaction in the form of an architecture diagram. It is also time to define the technology stack and highlight integration details. Additionally, there should be a document of the app evolution plan, project quality standards, control metrics, ways of addressing risks, a matrix that assigns participant roles to team members, a schedule of assigned tasks, and methods of handling changes to the schedule.
4. UX and UI design:
In this step, UX designers should translate the app’s functional requirements into minimalistic wireframes that constitute a prototype of the app. Once the prototype passes user testing, UI designers transform it into full-colour graphic interface mockups.
5.Development and testing:
The work should go according to the chosen methodology and performs quality assurance in parallel with development to prevent code issues from affecting the entire code.
6. Launch and evolution:
Depending on whether the app is an internal solution or a commercial product, its time to adjust and integrate it with the required corporate infrastructure or release it to the public. Be sure to discuss the distribution method during the project planning stage to avoid the risks of urgent and costly code changes.
The best desktop application development platforms
Selecting the appropriate desktop development platform can be advantageous regarding time management, cutting down on redundant code, and elevating your overall efficiency. An effective platform guarantees you can quickly obtain any necessary tools or dependencies required to produce a first-rate desktop application.
Below are several of the most outstanding platforms for developing desktop applications.
1. Electron Js
Electron.js is a widely-used software framework for desktop application development, and many companies consider it a great choice due to its ease of use. With Electron.js, developers can focus on building the core features of their application, while the framework takes care of essential steps such as cross-platform compatibility and automatic updates.
- Cross-Platform Development:
- Open Source:
Electron Js is an open-source project maintained by the OpenJS Foundation in collaboration with hundreds of developers. This active community can help with bug fixes and new feature development, making it easier to build high-quality applications.
- Automatic Updates:
It allows desktop applications to update themselves automatically once they’ve been installed. This feature ensures that users have the latest features at all times and enables developers to push updates seamlessly.
- Crash Reporting and Analytics:
With this platform, you can collect data on how your application performs in real environments. This information can help you identify bottlenecks and fix performance issues, resulting in a better user experience.
- Web Technologies:
- Good Distribution:
It uses Electron Forge to package all your source code into a platform-specific installation file, which you can then share with end-users. This tool helps move your application from the development environment to production quickly and efficiently.
The Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) framework empowers you to craft the user interface of your Windows applications with ease, thanks to its support for the Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML). Besides UIs, WPF also offers various features such as layouts, controls, resources, models, and documents.
Some of the key benefits of WPF are:
- XAML support.
This platform facilitates the creation of declarative UIs through XAML, enabling you to design user interfaces quickly and efficiently.
It is compatible with the NET framework, which comprises libraries and tools for developing games, web, mobile applications, and other microservices. You can leverage these libraries to improve your application’s functionality.
- Responsive layouts.
WPF provides an extensible layout system that allows for dynamic adjustment of UI components as per window or screen size changes. The layout control system features several elements like Canvas, WrapPanel, VirtualizingStackPanel, StackPanel, Grid, and DockPanel, freeing you to focus on implementing your application logic.
- Improved input and command handling.
It makes use of routed and direct events for handling mouse positioning, focus management, and text input, enabling you to create highly interactive applications.
Windows Forms (WinForms) is a framework that assists you in creating user interfaces for your Windows desktop application.
Some of the top features of WinForms are:
- Drag-and-drop editor.
With WinForms, you can quickly drag and drop interface elements and arrange them to your liking.
- Interactive UIs
It is compatible with the Net framework, providing you with access to various libraries and dependencies that help you build different aspects of your interface, making it interactive and user-friendly.
- Data visualization.
This platform allows you to extract data from multiple sources, including APIs, JSON files, and XML files, and display them in a tabular format using the DataGridView component. This feature accelerates your application development process by making data visualization more efficient.
4. Universal Windows Platform (UWP)
The Universal Windows Platform (UWP) is a framework that lets you create desktop applications tailored specifically for Windows 10 and 11.
Some of the top features of UWP are:
- Responsive layouts and adaptive controls.
With UWP, you can design user interfaces that automatically adjust to the screen size or pixel density. UWP applications are also compatible with various controls such as game controllers, touchscreens, keyboards, and mice.
- App store.
You can distribute your UWP application to users via the Microsoft Store. Additionally, you can use the Azure Monitoring tool to gain insights into how people interact with your program and optimize it accordingly.
UWP offers monetization options such as in-app purchases, ads, or specifying a standard download fee on the Microsoft Store.
- Security and transparency.
When building UWP applications, developers must specify the resources their programs use. For example, you might indicate that your application requires access to the webcam, location, and microphone. Users can then decide whether to permit or deny access to these resources, enhancing transparency and security.
Its best qualities are:
- Engaging User Interfaces:
With Cocoa, you get access to a wide range of UI objects such as sliders, radio buttons, text fields, navigation bars, date pickers, dialog sheets, and drawers that help you create stunning user interfaces for your macOS desktop applications.
- High Performance:
Cocoa equips you with several performance-boosting features such as memory management, lazy loading, multithreading, and concurrency that help you build fast and responsive applications.
- Multi-Language Support: If you’re developing an application for different regions, Cocoa makes it easy to localize your resources such as images, text, and UI elements to cater to the preferences of your global audience.
- Networking Capabilities:
Cocoa enables desktop applications to communicate with external APIs and servers using sockets and internet protocols, making it easy to integrate your application with third-party services.
- System Interaction:
Cocoa acts as an abstraction layer that enables you to interact with the file system and other OS-level functionalities. This makes it easy to integrate your application with the underlying operating system and leverage its full potential.
Examples of desktop applications and usage in different sectors
Some people may think that desktop applications are a thing of the past and that not many people use it. Well, this is not true. They are being used in many industries and sometimes play a crucial role in many processes. Here are just a few examples of industries that use desktop applications:
Desktop applications are commonly used in healthcare to store and manage electronic health records (EHRs), patient data, and medical billing. Other examples of healthcare software include medical imaging, telemedicine, and practice management software. Here are just a few examples:
- Epic EHR: Widely used electronic health record system used by many hospitals and healthcare organizations.
- Philips IntelliSpace PACS: Medical imaging software used to manage and analyze medical images such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans.
- Kareo Billing: Medical billing and coding software used by healthcare providers to manage and process medical bills and insurance claims.
- AdvancedMD: Practice management software used by healthcare practices to manage appointments, patient data, and administrative tasks.
Financial institutions use desktop applications for tasks such as accounting, budgeting, financial analysis, and tax preparation. Other examples of finance software include investment management software, trading platforms, and payroll software. Here are just a few examples:
- Bloomberg Terminal: Commonly used financial data and news platform that provides real-time market data, news, and analytics to traders and investors.
- QuickBooks: Popular accounting software used by small businesses and accounting professionals to manage finances, track expenses, and create invoices.
- Excel: Widely used spreadsheet application that is used extensively in finance for financial modelling, data analysis, and reporting.
Desktop applications are widely used in education for tasks such as creating and managing lesson plans, grading assignments, and tracking student progress. Other examples of educational software include language learning software, student information systems, and e-learning software. The main examples are:
- Blackboard: Learning management system (LMS) used by many schools and universities to manage and deliver online courses and educational content.
- Moodle: Another popular LMS used by educators to create and manage online courses and track student progress.
- Turnitin: Plagiarism detection software used by educators to check student work for plagiarism.
Graphic designers, artists, and other creatives use desktop applications for tasks such as photo editing, vector graphics, and digital painting. Other examples of design software include video editing software, 3D modelling software, and desktop publishing software. The most popular examples are:
- Adobe Creative Suite: Collection of creative software applications including Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and more, used by designers for graphic design, web design, and video editing.
- Sketch: Vector graphics editor specifically designed for interface design, including mobile app and web design.
- Figma: Cloud-based design tool used for user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design, including collaborative design work.
Desktop applications, including game launchers, game development tools, and game engines, are often used for gaming. Other examples of gaming software include game mods, emulators, and game streaming software. The main examples are:
Steam: This is a digital distribution platform for video games, providing a wide selection of games to purchase and download, as well as social features and community support.
- Unity: Game development engine used by developers to create 2D and 3D games for desktop and mobile platforms.
- Unreal Engine: Another game development engine used for creating high-quality 3D games.
- Discord: Popular chat and communication app used by gamers to connect with other players and teams.
Desktop applications are widely used in business for tasks such as project management, customer relationship management (CRM), and marketing automation. Other examples of business software include inventory management, HR, and business intelligence software. The most popular examples are:
- Salesforce: Cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) software used by sales teams to manage and track leads, customer interactions, and sales data.
- QuickBooks: Popular accounting software used by small businesses and accounting professionals to manage finances, track expenses, and create invoices.
- Slack: Communication and collaboration tool used by businesses for real-time messaging, file sharing, and project management.
Many desktop applications are used for communication purposes, including email clients, messaging apps, and video conferencing tools. Other examples of communication software include team collaboration, web conferencing, and social media management software.
- Microsoft Teams: This is a collaboration and communication platform used by businesses to facilitate chat, video meetings, and file sharing.
- Zoom: This is a video conferencing software used by businesses for virtual meetings and webinars.
- Skype: This is a communication software that allows users to make voice and video calls and send instant messages.
How much does it cost to build desktop applications?
This is the most drilling question you have in you. Unfortunately, the answer is more complex. The cost of developing a desktop application varies depending on the specific requirements of each user and their business needs. Each user may have unique demands that can affect the complexity and scope of the project, resulting in different costs for development. Therefore, it is essential to consult with experts who can provide a personalized cost estimate based on the specific requirements and goals of the project. Our team of experts can provide a free quote and guide you through the development process to ensure that your desktop application is tailored to your needs and budget.
Despite the trend of mobile apps usage desktop applications are still thriving and being widely used by many companies in different sectors. Areas such as healthcare, business, design, education and many others use desktop applications as their basics. The most common examples are Microsoft Suite, Adobe Suite, Slack and many others.
Desktop applications have many benefits that differentiate them from other forms of applications. They are essential to many industries therefore it is a great opportunity to invest in their development.
To maximise the possibility of your success be sure to set good requirements and plan your project thoroughly before you start your development. Additionally, be sure to choose a great team for this task as it will affect the quality of your project, thus your time and profits. If you need a hand with creating your new software contact us here. What is more, if you are still reluctant to hire an outsourcing company read our guide on In-house Software Development Team vs IT outsourcing: Pros & Cons or Everything You Need to Know About Outsourcing Software Development.