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Web-based vs. Window-based business applications

Allan Lykke Christensen
Greenhorn

Joined: Dec 10, 2003
Posts: 8
Hi all,
I run a small software development company doing any kind of software (web-based, and window-based).
I would like to start a debate about what you think is most suitable for business applications.
It seems that web-based applications became a real hit about 3 years by aspiring programmers who felt that normal window-based programming was difficult to get started with and therefore turned to the 'easy' web-based application.
What disturbs me a bit is that it seems that almost any new business application is created as a web-based application.
The upsides:
- Allows the application to be easily used on many platforms
- Allows the application to be used by many people at the same time
- Allows the application to be accessed at geographical separate locations
The downsides:
- Web applications does not support sophisticated user interaction
- Web applications are stateless (making it complicated to maintain the state in the application).
- Browser-hell (The developers end up spending much more time trying to get it to look and work properly in the many browsers and browser-versions.)
- Off-line users without Internet connection can't get access to the system (which can cause a lot of problems for off-side users who need to make changes in the system and replicate them when they get back to the office).
Anyways - there is plenty of more up- and downsides - but I would like to know what you thing about the subject?
Hope to hear from you soon!
Kind regards,
Allan
Eric Pascarello
author
Rancher

Joined: Nov 08, 2001
Posts: 15376
    
    6
Another upside is that the user does not have to install anything.

Web applications can support sophisticated user interaction if you know how to code it.
Browser Hell? If you use CSS it is not hard making the applications looking the same.
Also it is not a problem with offsite workers with internet connections, most people have it. The company I work for provides free dial up.

As you can tell I perfer web based, I think it is easier. You can have anyone access the application from any computer. The only main downside is having good security with it, but if you are on a good intranet site, it is not that bad.
Eric
Allan Lykke Christensen
Greenhorn

Joined: Dec 10, 2003
Posts: 8
Hi Eric,
Don't get me wrong - I like Web applications myself, I just don't think it is the solution for everything.
In regards to offsite workers, I agree that that is not a problem in most places in Europe or America - but else in the world you don't have such priviledges as free dial-up (even dial-up can be a problem). For me this is a big problem because I travel a lot and spend a lot of time in airplanes (not easy getting Internet access there - even though the airlines have started implementing it).
Well, CSS is well supported from browsers 5.0 and up - but if you go below that you will see that nothing is working properly. Also the various browsers interprests the CSS differently. Just look at something like the box model.
I would like to see a web application with sophisticated user interaction such as Tree-views, progress-bars, rich-text edits, trackbar control, calendars, and tabs. I know it can be done - but consider the amount of dHTML code you have to write to make it compatible with the browsers out there.
Other than that I agree with you:
- CSS and XHTML greatly improves the compatibiltiy of web applications.
- Offside workers don't have a problem when they are given the right resources.
Kind regards,
Allan
Adrian Yan
Ranch Hand

Joined: Oct 02, 2000
Posts: 688
I really don't think you should compare the two platforms. Web-based has its advantages, and system-based has its advantages. I think system-based software can delivers more functionalities than web-based can. Of course, if you need a simple application, then I think web-based is fine. And if you requires some tricked-out user interface and complicated display, yea, system-based would be the way to go.
James Swan
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jun 26, 2001
Posts: 403
Depends on the business application.
eg. I used to work for a company that developed a lot of "green-screen" software, not sexy from a developers point of view, but suited the users prefectly, because they were doing a ton of data entry.
We moved some of the application to web-based and the biggest complaint was the users had to use a mouse to point and click, which slowed them down greatly. Sure you can add short-cut keys to buttons etc, and tabindex for fields etc.
But again, it depends on the type of application on whether it should be web-based or not.
Another point in favour of web-based applications is that many companies have a fairly anal IT department that hates going around to individual machines to configure and update software (many companies allow different OS's for workstation machines too), from their point of view, they are much happier with thin clients (browser == minimal fuss), and perhaps just having to update the server software when needed.
Allan Lykke Christensen
Greenhorn

Joined: Dec 10, 2003
Posts: 8
I think that is an interesting observation about the point'n'click and short-cut problem. I have noticed this myself - it is somewhat easier to use a 'real' application when doing a lot of data entry compare to a web application?! Wonder if it is just a phychological issue.
In regards to the installation problem we can only thank Sun for their work and effort in the Java Web Start area.
Jeroen Wenting
Ranch Hand

Joined: Oct 12, 2000
Posts: 5093
Originally posted by Allan Lykke Christensen:

The upsides:
- Allows the application to be easily used on many platforms
- Allows the application to be used by many people at the same time
- Allows the application to be accessed at geographical separate locations

First is irrelevant in most office environments as all users will have standardised desktops.
The others are strong arguments to use a browserbased system.

The downsides:
- Web applications does not support sophisticated user interaction
- Web applications are stateless (making it complicated to maintain the state in the application).
- Browser-hell (The developers end up spending much more time trying to get it to look and work properly in the many browsers and browser-versions.)
- Off-line users without Internet connection can't get access to the system (which can cause a lot of problems for off-side users who need to make changes in the system and replicate them when they get back to the office).

first: you can make surprisingly rich and sophisticated user interfaces using HTML, CSS and Javascript. Downside is that you may loose browser interoperability but read on...
second: Using the HTTP session you can store just about anything you need to, no problem
third: see also above. Most large browserbased applications are for internal use within companies where there is a single standardised browser environment. Browserhell as known with public websites is thereby avoided. Also, as time goes on ever more browsers have excellent standards support so as as long as you stay within the standards things should work reasonably consistently (the last non-conformant browsers are Netscape 4, IE 3 and Opera (older versions as well) which have by now miniscule marketshare).
last: no different there from any client/server system, except that indeed there is no local client which can be used offline. Such a client could conceivably be created just as for the traditional client/server system it would also have to be created specially (or special provisions made within the single client).
In all, I see no real disadvantages in a browserbased environment compared to traditional client/server or terminal applications, but they do offer the advantage of richer clients (over terminal applications) and/or less trouble maintaining applications on the client (over traditional client/server).
Effectively then, browserbased applications combine the best of terminal applications (all processing on a single machine, no client software to distribute and keep up to date) with the main advantage of client/server applications (rich user interfaces) (many client/server applications did hardly any work on the client anyway except data validation which you can do in Javascript as well if you want to).
They are inappropriate in those environments where traditionally terminal applications and client/server would be inappropriate which is those applications generating output directly onto the client machine or otherwise requiring direct access to the client machine (like barcode scanners).


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