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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Why a Web Application?

A question that a lot of people may wonder about us is: why build a website instead of a desktop application? Most of the important work educators do on computers (e.g. student management, lesson planning, etc.) is done through desktop applications. Why would they want to switch?

There are three important aspects of web applications that give them an advantage over desktop applications: portability, maintenance, and accessibility.

Portability is one of the hardest parts of an application to have. A normal desktop application has to be tested under multiple systems with multiple configurations. If the application needs to be run in different Operating Systems, a new application has to be written, often in a different language. Keeping all of these messy parts together and working is a task by itself.

It is a lot easier to have portability in a web application. All web applications are viewed by a browser like Internet Explorer or Firefox. In order for a web application to be portable, the application must display consistently in all browsers. Because the focus is on the browser, not the system running the browser, portability can be achieved by testing the application in multiple browsers, which is much easier to do than testing it on completely different computers. The beauty of it is that there doesn't need to be completely different code that runs for one browser versus another; they all share the same code.

Having to maintain different versions of code can be a nightmare. Imagine you're a painter. You've made 50 paintings of the same fruit basket, and given out your paintings to galleries. Then you realize that the painting would look better with an apple where the orange was. If you want to implement your upgrade, you would have to go to every painting, erase the apple, and draw an orange. Spread that out over 50 painting and that painter has a very, very long weekend.

Instead of each gallery having the same copy of the painting, the painter's upgrade would have been easier if there was only one copy of the painting. Instead of the gallery having a copy, they simply have a way to view the one painting. That is the beauty of web applications. No matter how many people need to use the application, there is only one copy of it. If the application needs some new features, a patch doesn't need to be applied by every user for their individual copy; instead, only the one version of the application needs to be updated. The centralization of web applications make maintenance much easier.

Every gallery being able to view the same painting is the basic principle behind the last advantage of web applications: accessibility. No matter what building you're in, no matter what state you're in, as long as you can access the Internet you can access the web application. Also, clients, potential students, etc. are all able to access all of the content you post.

The importance of the Internet increases every day. Applications built for the Internet can take advantage of portability, maintenance, and accessibility that it provides. Web applications are truly the next generation of applications.


Blogger Amit Guha said...

Excellent Article - shows why within the next five years the percentage of web based applications will be over 95% of all application developed. However, it is also a nightmare for web deveolopers to make systems work across all the important browsers - especially the ones that refuse to follow standards :)

1/18/10, 10:33 PM  

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