You Don't Need Desktop Apps Anymore

Fire up your Start menu or Dock and think carefully for a moment: Out of all your ageing desktop apps, how many do you really rely on these days -- or even better, how many of them don't already have very capable web app alternatives you could use instead? Unless you're a film editor or a graphic designer, it's probably time to let those old-fashioned, clunky desktop apps go.

Image: Screenshot

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When Chrome OS appeared on the scene in 2011, you could make the case that desktop apps were still essential. Web apps were slow, buggy, and feature-limited, and they obviously didn't work offline. Today that's no longer the case, and considering you can find Wi-Fi just about anywhere, offline access is less of an issue than it used to be.

Spotify's web player, now actually decent. (Image: Screenshot)

About those desktop programs you're still clinging to: Microsoft Office? You can use it for free online, and Google Docs is even better. iTunes? Join the streaming revolution, load up Spotify's revamped web player, and drag yourself into 2017 (you should import all your local tracks through the desktop app first). Admittedly, you won't get quite as many bells and whistles as you do with the fully fledged desktop equivalents, but consider whether you really need all those extra functions. Short answer: You don't.

Yes, if you're a gamer or a serious creative, you still need some key desktop programs installed; but we're willing to bet the majority of people reading this can get away with ditching their desktop apps for good.

Finding alternatives

We've already touched on some of the alternative web-based apps you can switch to. Office suites are the obvious place to start, and Apple, Google, and Microsoft all have free versions you can use in your browser; that's before we get on to any of the more modern alternatives, like Dropbox Paper.

If you haven't yet ditched your desktop email client for something cloud-based like Gmail or Outlook, then you really should make the move at your earliest convenience -- you'll never have to worry about moving your messages from one computer to another -- and if you've got work emails to keep tabs on, then most web clients can happily import messages from other accounts.

Web apps like Dropbox Paper are cleaner and more lightweight. (Image: Screenshot)

Unless you're a real smart playlist obsessive, you can bid the bloated, sluggish iTunes goodbye and turn to Spotify's web player, Deezer's web player, or Google Play Music, though admittedly if you're heavily invested in Apple Music and iTunes movies, there's no real online alternative for you -- maybe just make do with an Apple TV or an iPhone and AirPlay.

While we're on the topic of media, if you haven't already switched wholesale to services such as Netflix or Hulu, Plex will do a fine job of letting you view all your local music, movies, and photos inside a browser (whether that browser is on your original computer or somewhere else in the world). Plus your browser can play most popular music and video formats just fine without any extra help, so there's usually no need for another application, like the venerable VLC.

Do you need more editing tools than these? (Image: Screenshot)

The juggernaut that is the Adobe Creative Cloud suite contains some of the few desktop apps that can still justify its existence, and yes if you do a lot of serious video editing then you are still going to need something like Premiere. For most of us though, online alternatives will do just fine: Google Photos, for example, has a pile of basic tweaking tools included, while more sophisticated online apps such as Pixlr support layers, complex selections, and other advanced tools.

What else is there? Workplace productivity tool Slack works just as well in the browser as it does on the desktop, utilities for contacts and calendars are all now available on the web, whether you're a fan of Google, Apple, or Microsoft products, and the chances of a major new desktop application launching to take the world by storm anytime soon are very slim indeed.

Why switch?

You might think there's no harm in keeping your desktop apps around, and in the grander scheme of things you're more or less right, but on the other hand we can think of plenty of reasons to go web-only. For a start, it means less clutter on your local hard drive, faster boot up times, and more space for your browser to breathe.

If you upgrade your computer, then you've only got to think about transferring your local files -- rather than your files, plus dozens of desktop applications and all their associated settings. Those of you who've signed up for something like Dropbox or Google Drive don't really have to think about those files either, as they will all sync across devices automatically (caveat: once the relevant desktop apps get installed).

Google's new desktop tool makes it easier than ever to get your files online. (Image: Screenshot)

Need to use a Chromebook in an emergency? No problem. You've still got access to all your apps. Have to log in on someone else's machine? Again, if you've weaned yourself off your reliance on desktop apps then you can do everything from firing up your Spotify playlists to editing PowerPoint presentations while you're away from your main computer.

What's more, modern-day online apps have made collaboration and sharing so seamless that the process of editing files and emailing attachments back and forth now seems ridiculously archaic -- another reason to start living life inside the browser if you haven't made the switch already.

File sharing is something else web apps are better at. (Image: Screenshot)

There is some crossover, but desktop applications are generally built to save and manage files locally, whereas online apps are geared towards doing everything in the cloud -- and the cloud is the future. Sure, you can still back up your data to the cloud and just continue using your traditional desktop programs, but if you ever need to recover your system, you'll need to think about reinstalling and reconfiguring all those programs again. That's always a miserable experience.

Leaving behind desktop applications that have served you well for decades can be a wrench, but most of us don't really need them like we used to -- find a decent web alternative, make your files accessible online, and look for the uninstall option.

Alright that’s enough tech talk. Put down the device, step away from the screen. It’s time to stop thinking and start driving. Book your Mustang test drive today.


    Author is pretty insanely out of touch with the 99% who do not have an internet connection capable of providing a better user experience than a desktop app.

    Haha, no. MS Office offline is way more powerful than the web versions, and well beyond Google Docs. If all you need are very simple word processing, spreadsheet or PowerPoint tasks, then yeah - it's fine. But for anything beyond that web apps aren't going to cut it.

    I mostly use Google Docs these days for simple tasks, but there's still loads of reasons that desktop apps are better than web apps. Not to mention that you're going to need them if you don't want your files in the cloud.

    All of Adobe, Outlook, OneNote, Excel... You were probably one of those "I don't need a computer anymore because I have this awesome iPad.. Can I borrow your computer to set up my iPad?" people too huh?

      Except you haven't needed a computer to setup an iPad for years.

    Sure if you don't mind laggy sub-par experiences. Web browsers are still a long, long way of properly supporting the same level of performance and features you get in proper desktop applications. Simple example, just try right click copy/paste in Google Sheets in Firefox. Nope, not supported, never mind the advanced paste features and menu you get in desktop Excel for things like pasting formulas, value, transposing, formatting, etc.

    Same thing with other apps I see sitting here on my taskbar. Outlook, the web version has nothing on the desktop version, Gmail is even worse. MusicBee (or other music applications), yeah, sure, Spotify is nice, but I've already purchased all my music, I've already got it all on my local hard drive, why would I pay to listen to it? Why would I pay to get laggy playback? Notepad++, I do not know of any online alternative to this, there was no suggestions in the article. Slack/Discord, the desktop apps are much, much better than the websites, the websites are laggy and prone to breaking notifications. KeyPass, I'd rather NOT have my passwords only accessible via an online service, please.

    don't think so, for some one that uses Final Cut pro ever day... I don't think I will be using any web based video editor for 10 more years until we have 1000 mb internet connections, and thats going to be 20 years in Australia !

    Old El Paso kid sez: why not both?

    With the ridiculous amounts of hard drive space that is available these days, leaving desktop apps (they used to be called programs?) installed isn't a burden on the system, and they can get you out of a tight spot when Internet connectivity is limited, or when you require more advanced features, or when a multitude of other reasons crop up that require them. Yes, it would be hard to move away from desktop applications - but there is no pressing need to do so.

    Meanwhile, web applications are starting to become a larger part of my day-to-day. There's nothing wrong with that either, they offer an enormous level of convenience when moving between devices. Collaboration is generally (but not always) easier when working in the cloud, and combining storage solutions with productivity applications makes the experience all the more seamless.

    the cloud is the future

    I really hope not. For me it's a great general-purpose storage option, with basic but evolving applications for productivity. Meanwhile, my suite of desktop applications are still my go-to when drafting and publishing. The cloud (of which there are many, by the way) is good - but not as good as the desktop.

    Maybe in the future it'll be retro-cool to use Microsoft Word.

      I really love the comment I read somewhere, "there is no cloud, it's really someone else's computer". There are a bunch of reasons not to rely on that, obviously connectivity being one, but also security, speed and long term availability.

      You beat me to it regarding the storage space. This comment is just, well... wrong!

      For a start, it means less clutter on your local hard drive, faster boot up times, and more space for your browser to breathe

      You (author of the article) realise that start up relies more on RAM and basic HDD speed than whether you have office installed right? Maybe you could argue that office likes to install a kind of pre-loader that runs on startup so that when you click a word doc it opens faster. Here's the thing, you can turn that off if you like to save that 0.01 of a second it delays startup.

        And just for the record... web browsers suck. Just browsing Gizmodo in Firefox (three Gizmodo tabs open) and it lagged out. Check task manager and Firefox is using 24% CPU and 1.5GB of RAM. I can't remember the last time I opened an office document in Word (or OpenOffice) and the PC ground like that.

        Much better to have different tools doing a single job than one tool that's trying to do everything.

    "You don't need desktop apps anymore (if you're a writer on the internet)"

    I don't think there is a single point in this article that is accurate.

    Web apps don't support convenience features like sleep/low power state (e.g. Connected Standby), notifications when the browser is closed & deep integration with the OS 'notification centre', integration with OS level sharing features (i.e. share via other app), integration with hardware features like keyboard Fn keys/stylus/other, etc.

    Music web apps fail because they don't work while the computer is asleep (i.e. Connected Standby type sleep) - and neither do Win32 desktop apps on Windows BUT UWP/Store apps do. And they don't work with OS & hardware play/pause/skip controls (e.g. keyboard or Bluetooth headset). Those are key features for me.

    Mail and calendar web apps only give notifications while they're running in a browser window, if you forget to open you mail web app then you won't get any notifications.

    I do like to use web apps where possible, then 'store applications', and then desktop applications where there is no alternative. But web apps fulfill maybe 30% of my needs.

    If you want to do anything of any complexity on a PC, then good luck ditching desktop apps:

    - Office - anyone who says you can do everything in the free online versions isn't using these apps correctly
    - VLC - because web browsers are still shit at playing back video properly
    - Creative suite - same as office
    - Steam (plus any other gaming software) - should be self explanatory
    - Video editing online is essentially impossible, even if all you want to do is clean up a gopro video to post onto youtube
    - VPN's - because a purely online VPN isn't really giving you end to end protection
    - Professional software - if you work in anything other than a startup or media/creative company you will still be using desktop apps
    - Sportify/streaming music services - you admitted right in the article that you still need this one

    Desktop apps are a long way from dead and to say otherwise shows you don't understand how people use their PC's

      To be fair people usually mean "I can do everything *I need* in the free online version" not "I can do everything the desktop one does". In which case fair enough, let them do so.

      Otherwise, yeah I agree.

    oh the rhetoric is strong in this one !

    'old fashioned' .. like what?.. electric cars from the the 1900's level of old fashioned? or 1940's type 'old fashioned' like that circa 1940's tech invented by Hedy Lamarr?

    Browsers "breathe" now do they?

    "Less clutter on hard drives" I guess ignores browser temp crud and only includes stuff like program files. Hmm, 30 of my regular programs occupy under 2Mb each of valuable hard drive space on my main 2Tb main drive..

    "faster boot up times" - really? I'da thought a crash course in using msconfig or suggesting people de-select unnecessary addons during installations, de-selecting 'load at startup' options and general basic computing stuff would take care of boot speed issues..

    I agree moving to a new PC could an be easier using online facilitators like Google Drive - unless of course you're already using portable programs, then it's just a case of unplugging a thumbdrive on one PC and plugging into another.. which is much quicker than using the web. Sure plenty of programs aren't natively portable, but that's the joy of the computer literate, turning even programs like Photoshop CS into a portable program - an easy task if you had any experience with Windows 3.. Admittedly some modern bloatware can be difficult, but honestly why would anyone wish to run 200Mb circa 2017 crap when say a 2Mb 2008 version exists which actually runs quicker unless they actively enjoy the candyfloss and bunged-up code added in later incarnations?

    Ah, the ol' logging into someone else's machine reason. I had someone almost fall off a chair when I did that with a thumbdrive and started using a prog they didn't have installed - they thought I was some sort of magician !

    "The Cloud is The Future" . yeah I'm not a fan of public transport, public toilets or any other shared community facility that relies on other folk keeping things ticking. "oh noes, BrandX is going under so now you won't be able to do stuff!' may frighten some people but what.. do people really uninstall programs because a software Co. goes belly up? Now I may be old fashioned but I do stuff with my PC beyond entertaining myself and for some of these things I use hardware like an A3 film scanner that cost $36,000 when new more than a decade ago - nothing has been built since that comes remotely close to it's quality.. and amazingly, even though the software is no longer supported, the software STILL WORKS ! Magic..

    No mention of old versions of stuff, I guess everyone's OK with being forced to adopt new 'features' (bloat) whenever the web-based software decides you need it or wants to harvest personal data.

    this is a satire piece, yes?

      I had an old Agfa scanner (parallel port it was that old) that was better than the current crop of USB ones from Cannon/Epson. I held onto an old win98 PC for ages simply because they never released newer drivers. Would fire up that PC if I ever wanted to scan something. The software for it (installed from 2x 1.4MB floppies) was better than the 200MB+ Cannon software I installed last year :(

    cloud is the future

    The "cloud" is just someone's else's computer. Why send all your data to run on someone else's machine if you can have it locally. There is a convenience factor to some of it, but every experience I can think of is better on a local machine.

    Video and Audio is better quality when its local, bit rates higher, less compression.

    No one want to stream video games (steamlink is the only exception to this, but this is over a local gigabit ethernet).

    Web Office suites are pretty lack luster, even the best one gsuite plays second fiddle to Libre Office or Microsoft Office.

    Event chat apps are better with a local client - no one wants to use IRC in web applet, or telegram, skype etc through a web browser.

    1) Using nothing but online / remote apps essentially turns your devices into little more than a really smart dumb terminal.

    2) A paradigm shift involving mass migration to remote apps will have a net effect of extra unnecessary internet traffic hence unnecessary load on infrastructure that could be minimised by keeping software local so that it doesn't need to be re-downloaded every time that it is used.

    3) I'm pretty sure that I read this exact same article (or something at least 90% similar) on the US/Kinja Gizmodo a couple of months ago.

    Last edited 11/09/17 9:50 pm

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