The Move to Web Applications

(Published in The Express Tribune, June 14, 2010)

KARACHI: People are increasingly gravitating toward the web browser to accomplish most of their daily tasks. A typical computer user may check their mail online, chat with friends on Facebook and maybe even kill some time watching videos on YouTube before reading their favorite news site or checking up on a bank statement.

Employees may access a corporation’s payroll or document management system directly from the browser as part of their daily routine.

The shift toward the web is happening slowly but steadily even though web applications are not always as fast as Desktop applications. The obvious reasons are that users no longer have to be tied to a single computer with all their software installed on it, and they no longer have to carry around data in memory sticks.

Google Docs for example allows users to do all their document editing or spreadsheet work online and access it from everywhere. Google recently even featured the infamous Pac Man  game on its homepage which resulted in millions of hours of game play across the globe.

But there are far more profound factors influencing this paradigm shift. Desktop applications are hard to update because users are required to download new versions or updates each time.

On the other hand a user may refresh GMail only to find that the layout has improved from what it was 10 seconds ago.

The change might be as tiny and effortless as the color of an icon. Updates for desktop applications, by contrast must wait until a significant number of small changes have accumulated.

They are then released together as part of a bigger software release. This is done because it is not feasible to release a new update each time an icon changes.

Web applications are also centrally managed which is why a lot of enterprise applications like payroll and customer management are now moving to the browser. is an example of a just such a web-based application providing customer management and accounting software to the millions of small and medium businesses through a website. What is most interesting though is that all potential customers of are only a click away.

Because of the massive reach web applications have, they are often designed to serve millions of users simultaneously. This is great for users as well because the software costs end up being a lot lower.  Web applications also have fewer software problems and are easier to fix because there are only a handful of different browsers which work the same on computers and mobile phones.

Web applications promise to get even better with the next generation of browsers already here. The Google Chrome browser for example allows users to drag-and-drop attachments into GMail or read their mail through the browser even if disconnected from the Internet—tasks previously exclusive to Desktop applications.