I recently ran across a question on the telerik forums that asked this: how do you know ahead of time when you should build an application for the web or instead build it for the desktop? That got me to start thinking about the issue and I realized that there are very few reasons in a Utopian world why you shouldn't build a new *business* application for the web. Applications designed and built for the web offer a number of benefits over their stodgy desktop counterparts:
- Easy deployment and version management
- Easy to upgrade and patch
- Inherent cross platform compatibility (thanks to FireFox)
- No software compatibility issues to contend with (because there is no installation to contend with)
- Familiar application interface for end users (users are used to using their Internet browser)
During my time developing at a Fortune 200 I/T shop, I found that the simple task of bringing in a new desktop application can take hundreds of hours. You've got to get your Software Packaging team to package and verify the software, then you've got to get your Security team to validate the package, then you've got to get your Desktop Change Control Board to approve the new software for the desktop environment, then you've got to Software Distribution to schedule the deployment of the software to correct users, and finally you've got to help your end users find the new application on their computer. And all that assumes your Legal Department didn't have any issues with the installation license for the software; if they did, tack an extra 3 months onto the process for contract and license negotiations.
The web is not immune from all of these problems, but my experience has been that it is much easier to introduce a new web application to an Enterprise environment. Once a contract is in place (or if it's in house development, once the application is live), just email a new link to your users and everyone is on their way (with a little training, of course).
I emphasized early that this philosophy applies primarily to business applications, such as data manipulation applications, office-like applications, and the like. The web is still a long way from being a suitable replacement for all desktop applications (can you imagine doing your Visual Studio development in a web app?), so at the end of the day the appropriateness of the web depends entirely on your situation and application. Three years ago I would have called you crazy if you told me that Office could be replaced by web apps; today I'd tell to you it's only a matter of time (for average users- power users are a different bunch that will hit the limits of web apps quickly).
With that understanding, there a few reasons in the "real world" (sorry, we don't live in Utopia) that business applications shouldn't be built for the web:
- Lack of technical know-how on your development teams (If you've got experienced Windows developers, their talent will be wasted trying to build for the web.)
- Internal chargeback rates for web applications exceed benefits (a.k.a. Cost) (In large Enterprises, it is not uncommon for the internal chargeback rate for standing up and running a new web application to far exceed the costs of obtaining and installing a desktop app, especially if you have a small user base.)
- Paranoid management (While security on the web can be managed just as easily as security on desktop- via AD integration, VPN, etc.- some management environments do not like the idea of having their business data accessible via a web browser.)
- Technical capacity requirements of application (If you're application will be doing heavy data analysis, the desktop may provide a better experience. Case in point: Google Spreadsheets can handle 10,000 rows and Excel can handle 65,000+. Users working with lots of data need Excel's capacity.)
So where is the tie in to telerik? After all, this is the "Telerik Watch" blog. Quite simply, telerik controls take the User Interface question out of the equation when trying to decided between Web and Windows. Any user interface that you could build for a WinForms application using Visual Studio can just as easily be built for the web using r.a.d.controls for ASP.NET. Whatever other reasons you may find that the web is not appropriate for your application, limits due to your ability to create a desktop-like UI shouldn't be among them. With r.a.d.ajax it is very easy to create responsive, desktop-like experiences on the Web and the other 17 controls in the suite give you most of the tools you'll need to finish the job.
Web or Windows? The answer depends on your situation, but the application UI will be easy to build and will look great either way if you use r.a.d.controls.