Is the future of the application web-based?

Five years ago, you might not have known what a web-based application was. Now, there are literally thousands of web-applications out there, which many of us use on a daily basis. With so many applications popping up online, will online applications replace desktop ones?

A web based application, or web app, is simply a system which operates via a browser and runs on a server, rather than on each individual desktop. And there are a number of reasons why, for users, this is a really handy way of doing things.

Firstly, and mainly, it replaces the alternative, which is installed software. Software must be purchased and/or licensed per user, which can be costly, and once installed, it cannot usually be accessed from elsewhere. Web apps, on the other hand, are often cheaper or free to use, and perhaps more importantly, can be accessed from anywhere. All you need is a web browser and a connection.

Secondly, web apps don’t require any user knowledge, or maintenance. You don’t have to install from disk, and then download updates as required (or get bugged by Microsoft every five minutes, wanting to know if you’ve got a legitimate version….). You also don’t have to keep a backup copy in case the install gets corrupted.

And thirdly, all your data is stored securely, and centrally, so you don’t have to worry about backing up the data, either – it’s done for you.

Run applications from anywhere

Already, people are predicting a future where applications will change according to consumer needs. People don’t want to know about operating systems, updates and patches and so on, they just want things to work. So rather than messing about installing software on a computer – even in this day and age of plug and play – people would rather just sign up, register or login, and use it wherever they are. And with communications technology improving rapidly, they might not even login on a desktop computer, it might well be on a palmtop, netbook or mobile phone. Yes, it all sounds like the “by the year 2010 we’ll all be using jetpacks for travel” bunkum, but this time it’s for real… look at the uptake of mobile phones, for example.

And for businesses, web applications are likely to become the norm, as they are so ideal for multi-user requirements, especially when those users are spread over more than one geographical location. Intranets and extranets are already common within businesses. Businesses can have applications tailor-made to their requirements, rather than buying off-the-shelf software which may not cover all their requirements and may also require expensive licensing per user. Think of document management with secure access and version control, and a built-in file transfer system allowing the easy movement of very large files. Think of a recruitment system which displays all your job adverts, allows users to apply, sends you updates to let you know what’s going on, and keeps a database of all the relevant information. Think of… well, anything, really. Whatever you want a web app to do, one can be built to do it.

And as for replacing the desk-top application, well, possibly. It’s going to be a while before server based applications have access to the processing power and the bandwidth to effectively run large, complex applications like 3D modelling or top-end photo editing software, but that day might come. And in the meantime, web apps are quietly becoming part of everyday life.


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