In the era before the advent of web applications, desktop software was the norm. Gradually, web-based platforms have been nudging them aside. However, we are currently witnessing a resurgence in the popularity of desktop application development tools.
In 2023, the landscape is heavily dominated by web technologies and mobile applications. Consequently, businesses and individuals are expected to lessen their dependency on desktop computers as they are likely to access most services using their phones.
Thus, the significance of desktop computers might be somewhat reduced compared to their present importance. However, an intriguing resurgence in the interest in desktop applications suggests that they continue to retain a unique appeal and hold a distinctive position in our digital universe.
Read the following article to have a better understanding of this topic. Learn all the essential information about desktop apps and the building process to ensure this solution can work for your business.
What is a desktop application?
Desktop applications are software programs developed to fulfill specific purposes for computer users, operating directly within the desktop environment. They differ from web-based or mobile apps as they interact with the operating system itself. The demand for desktop applications is on the rise, thanks to advancements like artificial intelligence and machine learning. By integrating machine learning capabilities, desktop applications can automate business processes, continuously learn, optimize efficiency, and minimize human intervention. These applications provide a user interface for input and output, making them versatile tools for various tasks such as word processing, media playback, gaming, and more. Some popular examples of desktop apps include:
- web browsers like Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Firefox,
- Microsoft File Explorer
How do desktop apps work
Desktop applications function by directly interacting with a computer’s operating system, granting users the ability to perform diverse tasks through a graphical user interface. Installed locally on the computer, these applications do not rely on a web browser or internet connection to operate.
When a desktop app is launched, it establishes a connection with the operating system, allowing seamless access to the Windows operating system and resources and enabling specific functionalities. This integration with different operating systems empowers desktop apps to leverage the full capabilities of the computer, ensuring a smooth and efficient user experience.
Desktop applications encompass a wide range of functionalities. Productivity apps like Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop facilitate document creation and image editing, while media players such as VLC or iTunes enable the playback of audio and video files. Gaming apps like Steam or World of Warcraft deliver immersive gaming experiences. Additionally, communication tools like Skype or Discord provide real-time messaging and voice/video call functionalities.
These examples build desktop apps highlight the versatility of desktop applications, catering to different user needs and preferences. Through local installation and direct integration with the operating system, desktop apps are powerful tools for productivity, entertainment, and communication on computers.
Desktop applications nowadays
In the pre-Internet era, desktop applications were the primary approach to software development. Developers had the freedom to choose from various programming languages like COBOL, Fortran, VB6, or C++, regardless of whether they were creating small tools or complex distributed architectures. However, the emergence of Internet technologies brought about significant changes in the development landscape, attracting more engineers due to advantages like simplified distribution processes and easy deployment.
Web applications, once deployed, provide automatic updates to all users, revolutionizing software agility. Nonetheless, the Internet infrastructure and underlying protocols like HTTP and HTML were not initially designed for building complex applications. Efforts were made to equip web applications with the capabilities of desktop applications, such as efficient data input and robust state management.
Despite the rapid growth of web and mobile applications, desktop applications continue to dominate specific tasks in terms of efficiency and performance. This is evidenced by the increasing number of web developers opting for frameworks like WPF and WinForms for their projects.
Several factors contribute to choosing desktop applications in development. Desktop apps offer superior interaction with the user’s PC, outperform web applications in complex calculations, allow for more straightforward implementation of client-side business logic, and provide efficient multithreading capabilities. Designing user interfaces (UIs) for desktop apps, especially with WinForms, boasts an intuitive drag-and-drop experience and a manageable learning curve. Additionally, creating desktop applications in development allows for rapid coding and algorithm testing without the need to establish a server infrastructure or address connectivity issues, firewalls, and browser compatibility. Debugging desktop applications is also more powerful than web debugging, and accessing hardware devices like cameras, Bluetooth, or card readers is straightforward.
The maturity and extensive knowledge base surrounding desktop application development make it an attractive choice. The technology has withstood the test of time, and the desktop app development upcycle is fast and efficient. Overall, desktop development offers less complexity and facilitates a smoother onboarding experience.
The modern desktop application
Over the past two decades, UI desktop technologies have grown significantly, transitioning from Windows Forms to UWP. Concurrently, hardware advancements have transformed from bulky PC units with small CRT monitors to high-DPI displays and lightweight tablets and smartphones with touch and ink input capabilities. These developments have given rise to two distinct concepts: the Desktop Application and the Modern Application.
A Modern Application is a Windows desktop application designed to cater to different device form factors, adapt to diverse input and output methods, and make the most of modern desktop features. It operates within a sandboxed execution model, prioritizing flexibility and compatibility across various devices.
In contrast, the (traditional) Desktop Application emphasizes a robust user interface with a dense array of controls optimized for mouse and keyboard interaction. It relies on the familiarity and precision provided by these input devices to deliver an efficient user experience.
The evolution of hardware and UI desktop technologies has led to the differentiation between these two application types, each tailored to meet specific needs and user preferences.
The main differences are shown here:
Types of Desktop Applications
Desktop applications encompass a variety of tools, to build desktop applications, each with unique functionalities. While each provides specific benefits, they also come with inherent challenges. Let’s dive deeper into each one and discuss some of the key features and the associated issues.
Word processors are essential tools for creating, editing, and formatting textual documents. The most popular word processor is Microsoft Word, which offers a wide range of features for document manipulation, such as spell-checking, formatting options, and collaboration tools. However, they come with specific issues:
- Formatting Difficulties: Formatting documents to look exactly as envisioned can sometimes be challenging, especially with complex layouts.
- Compatibility Issues: Different word processors may not open or display a document identically, which can cause problems when sharing files.
- File Corruption: Word processing files may become corrupt and inaccessible due to software bugs or unexpected shutdowns.
Web browsers enable users to access and navigate the Internet. They interpret HTML code, allowing users to view websites, search for information, and interact with online content. Popular web browsers include Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Edge. Therefore, they enable us to surf the internet, but they also have particular problems:
- Security Risks: Browsers can be susceptible to malware, phishing attacks, and other cybersecurity threats.
- Privacy Concerns: Many browsers track user activities, raising privacy issues.
- Performance Variations: Different browsers may render the same webpage differently, affecting user experience.
Media players are software applications used for playing various types of media files, including audio and video. Examples of media players are Windows Media Player, iTunes, VLC Media Player, and Winamp. They provide features like playback control and playlist management and often support different file formats. However, they also present some problems:
- File Format Compatibility: Some media players may not support certain audio or video formats.
- Streaming Issues: Users may encounter buffering problems or quality degradation due to poor internet connections.
- Software Updates: Frequent updates can disrupt the user experience and require additional system resources.
Desktop applications also include a wide range of games that can be played on a computer. These games cater to different genres and interests, ranging from casual puzzle games to immersive, action-packed experiences. Some popular game titles include Minecraft, Fortnite, World of Warcraft, and The Sims. Here are a few problems associated with them:
- Hardware Requirements: Some games may require high-end hardware to run smoothly.
- Software Bugs: Games can contain bugs that interrupt gameplay or cause crashes.
- Internet Connectivity: Many modern games require a stable internet connection, which can be problematic for users with unstable connections.
System software refers to the core programs that manage and control the operation of a computer system. This includes the operating system (e.g., Windows, macOS, Linux) and utility software that performs tasks like disk management, security, and system maintenance. Although they are trendy and highly crucial, they come with challenges. Their common problems include:
- Compatibility Issues: System software may not be compatible with all types of hardware or software, limiting functionality.
- Updates and Patches: Regular updates are required to keep system software secure and efficient. However, these can sometimes introduce new bugs.
- Resource Consumption: Some system software consumes a significant amount of system resources, slowing down the overall performance.
Application software is designed to perform specific tasks or provide functionality for users. It includes a broad range of programs such as graphic design software (e.g., Adobe Photoshop, CorelDRAW), other personal productivity software tools (e.g., Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint), and communication applications (e.g., Skype, Slack). Problems often associated with this type include:
- Usability Issues: Some applications may need to be more user-friendly, with complex interfaces or vague instructions.
- Software Bugs: Like all software, applications can contain bugs that affect functionality.
- Compatibility Issues: Some applications may not be compatible with certain system software, which can cause them to malfunction or crash.
Developers and programmers use programming software to create, edit, debug, and test software applications. Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) are standard programming tools that provide features like code editors, compilers, and debugging capabilities. Examples of other programming languages and software include Visual Studio, Eclipse, and Xcode. Common issues include:
- Learning Curve: Programming software often comes with a steep learning curve, especially for beginners.
- Bug Identification: It can sometimes be difficult to identify and fix bugs in the code.
- System Resource Usage: Some programming software can be resource-intensive, affecting the performance of other tasks on the computer.
How to modernize desktop applications for the cloud?
The task faced by developers of desktop applications, particularly legacy applications with a Windows focus, lies in adapting these applications to fulfil the requirements of modern users while minimizing costs and avoiding operational disruptions. The main solution in this case, is to convert standard desktop applications for the cloud.
Once you have determined the most suitable type of cloud environment for your project (private, public, or hybrid), the next step is to select the optimal strategy for executing your cloud migration. Broadly speaking, there are two distinct categories of migration options:
- Re-hosting: Re-hosting, often referred to as the “lift-and-shift” model, involves replicating an existing on-premises application in the cloud without making significant changes to its architecture or design. This approach can be accomplished through techniques such as containerization or deploying the application on virtual machines (VMs). The primary goal is to migrate the application as-is, taking advantage of the cloud’s scalability and infrastructure while minimizing alterations to the existing codebase.
- Rewriting: Rewriting, also known as refactoring or re-architecting, involves abandoning the current architecture and design of the application and rebuilding it from scratch using a cloud-native API architecture. This approach allows for a more thorough optimization of the application to fully leverage the benefits and capabilities of the cloud environment. While it requires more effort and resources, it offers greater flexibility, scalability, and potential performance improvements.
When considering your cloud migration strategy, you must assess your project’s specific needs and constraints to determine which approach is most appropriate. Re-hosting is typically quicker and less disruptive, making it suitable for applications with limited cloud compatibility requirements. On the other hand, rewriting offers the opportunity for a more efficient and scalable solution but requires a more extensive development effort.
Ultimately, choosing between re-hosting and rewriting depends on factors such as the complexity of the application, desired cloud capabilities, budgetary considerations, and the long-term goals of your project.
How to build a modern desktop application?
Crafting desktop applications can be fulfilling and exciting, but understanding the initial steps is difficult.
Here’s a guide to help you kick-start your journey into desktop application development:
1. Ignite your interest and conceptualize your idea
Desktop application development can occasionally be frustrating, even when the result is gratifying. You may encounter unexpected failures, and during these times, passion and enthusiasm can keep you going. Investing time to tackle diverse programming obstacles is the most crucial step to building impressive desktop applications.
Also, set clear objectives and understand your motivations for wanting to create desktop applications. This will help you envision the type of applications you wish to create.
Explicitly setting your targets can positively influence your development process and, potentially, your professional path.
2. Sketch out your application
Once you’re prepared to start developing, it’s time to create preliminary designs and prototypes for interactive features of your desktop application. Designs can help you elaborate on your ideas and anticipate how your application could function.
Several tools can assist you in crafting designs and prototypes for your application, including Moqups, Adobe XD, Mockplus, and Mockingbird.
Keep in mind the following during the design phase:
Functionality. Your design should underscore the app’s functions and its primary features.
Usability. Ascertain how your app will assist users in achieving their specific objectives. An intuitive interface can enhance the overall user experience when developing apps.
Responsiveness. Your application should adapt to different device displays due to the diversity of screen sizes today.
Typography. Opt for legible fonts, and avoid slow-loading, fancy fonts as they could detract from the user experience.
3. Opt for a programming language
4. Pick a development platform
Creating a desktop application from scratch can be pretty time-consuming. To streamline your development process, select a platform like Electron JS for cross-platform application development frameworks or Universal Windows Platform for Windows-specific web apps only. For macOS-specific applications, you’ll need to utilize the default Cocoa framework due to Apple’s somewhat limited development environment.
5. Set up an Integrated Development Environment (IDE)
After you’ve selected your preferred development platform, install an IDE to assist you in writing effective code, saving time, and identifying errors in your code. Depending on your OS and development platform, you can opt for IDEs such as Visual Studio, Visual Studio Code, and XCode.
6. Start building the application
You can now commence developing your application. If you face challenges, consult online forums like Stack Overflow and official documentation for solutions.
At this juncture, you should have a list of all the required features for your app. Instead of attempting to incorporate all features simultaneously, consider a sequential approach, finishing one feature before progressing to the next.
Consider using an integrated development environment for coding, as it offers valuable features like debugging tools, native code, insight and completion, and resource management.
Always remember to save your work before taking a break. Although most IDEs save your code automatically, it’s prudent to verify.
7. Conduct testing on your application
After completing coding, test your desktop application to validate that all features function as planned. Get feedback from your circle and even professional testers. Early user experience analysis is a crucial step in refining your application.
8. Deliver your application
Upon completing your development career application, start delivering it to your audience. Utilize the Microsoft Store for Windows users and the Apple Store for macOS users. Alternatively, you can host your application on a website and instruct users to download and install it from there.
To reach a larger audience, consider promoting your application using social media marketing and digital ads on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and TikTok.
9. Monitor your progress
After distributing your application, track its usage using analytical tools like Azure Monitor. This will help you monitor your application’s performance and implement enhancements.
What is the Cost of Desktop Application Development?
When it comes to developing desktop applications, costs can vary significantly depending on various factors, such as the complexity of the app, the required features, and the client’s specific needs. It’s essential to understand that each application is unique and may have its own requirements. Therefore, it is highly recommended to reach out to our company for a personalized estimation based on your specific project. Our team of experts will assess your needs, analyze the scope of work, and provide you with an accurate cost estimate tailored to your requirements. This approach ensures transparency and allows you to make informed decisions about the investment required for your desktop application.
Before web applications came along, desktop software ruled the roost. But over time, web-based platforms started stealing the spotlight. Yet, there’s a surprising revival in the popularity of desktop application development today. Applications like Photoshop, Steam, Chrome or Discord still strive and develop towards even more immense popularity. Therefore it’s worth considering incorporating a desktop application as a part of your business or your new project. To ensure the best quality in your next development, it’s best to contact experts in this area. SolveQ has years of experience as well as a compelling team of highly skilled developers and consultants ready to turn your new idea into an actual project. Contact us here and book a free consultation to help map your next step