Why web apps are changing the world

JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin
JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin
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This week I read with interest a (very) long article about Tesla and how and why it is changing the world. It wasn’t just about Tesla, but detailed lots of different things, including the way new technologies emerge and disrupt the status quo.

It pointed out how we look back at the old ways of doing things and think, “Wow. How old fashioned is that!”

Well it’s the same in the ever changing world of computing too. Web apps (those things you use in a browser) are replacing the need for standalone applications on a PC. There are quite a few reasons for this, which I will try to summarise for you here.

Traditionally if you needed to use an application (word processor, photo editor, spreadsheet, etc.) you had to install the program onto your machine. This involved either inserting a disk into your computer (Wow. How old fashioned is that!) or downloading the installation files from the internet. With web apps however, all you need to do to start using it straight away is visit a website and off you go. It really is that simple.

To give you an example from this week, I was helping an elderly gentleman who had purchased Microsoft Office 365. There was no disk, just a product code. So we began the download and waited… and waited… and waited. The download itself was 1.69GBs which is fairly massive. In fact, it’s larger than the latest version of Ubuntu (1.5GBs) which includes LibreOffice for free. Well, we waited some more and eventually I had to leave before it had finished downloading. The problem may have been caused by the speed of the broadband connection (likely) or there could have been a bottleneck on the server we were downloading from (often happens). Either way, it took an awfully long time and to add to the misery, my client got a message from his broadband provider to say that he had reached his download limit (Wow. How old fashioned is that!).

If he had chosen to use Google Docs, or Quip or one of the other freely available suites of productivity web apps, he could have been up and running as quickly as it takes to log in to the computer and open up a web browser.

Which brings me to the next point. If you need to use a program on more than one computer, the old fashioned way of doing it means you need to manually install your favourite application on each and every computer you are going to use. With web apps, you don’t have that worry at all and can use any computer in the world if you have to.

Another advantage that web apps have, is that they are always the most recent version. To use the most current and up to date version of the software, you simply log in as normal and it’s right there ready for you to use. With traditional applications on your PC, you will need to go through the laborious process of downloading and installing all of those updates on every single machine you use! Wow. How old fashioned is that?

Finally, because a lot of the processing gets done on a remote server somewhere, it means you do not need an ultra expensive PC with enough processing power to send a fleet of rocketships to the moon. Instead you can get away with something much cheaper (like a Chromebook), but which still performs as fast (or faster) than it’s more expensive contemporaries.