You Don’t Need Desktop Apps Anymore

You Don’t Need Desktop Apps Anymore

Image: Screenshot

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.

You Don’t Need Desktop Apps Anymore

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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.


  • Two things

    1. Australian Internet
    2. Shaking fist at cloud

    I’m moving more towards streaming and I too enjoy being able to sync documents with the cloud, office 365 is something I’ve come to love but I’m far more comfortable with local files with some cloud backup.

    Having to relearn my habits regarding computing is harder but I’ll get there. Honestly PC gaming is about the only thing keeping me from doing away with a traditional PC at this point.

    • Internet Speed and Reliability are my main qualms, second is being left in the dark if the server goes offline which has happened with office 365 a few times last year.

  • I prefer to keep my content localised, and not for any real tinfoil hat reason other than ownership rights online is pretty grey.

    For example, you may own the content you upload, but you agree by using a service to allow royalty free use of the content by the host (in this example twitter) and Youtube was (not sure if still is) allowed to retain copies of your content even if you close your account.

    To be honest, I am not sure how this translates to documents, but it is still something I would rather have offline.

    • In terms of enterprise level documents, it depends on your organisation and their service agreement with the cloud vendor. It’s taken me 9 months with IT, management and ethics to evaluate whether my university should allow researchers to store research documents in a cloud service and we’re still not decided…

      For your own private documents, you’re kinda screwed

  • Yeah.. in the good old land of NBN (if it ever even arrives) I think I’ll stick to offline alternatives…

    Besides that obvious issue, even if I wanted to drop desktop apps, I couldn’t for the most part. Unity/UE and the numerous IDEs I use for various coding languages are all desktop apps (I’m sure there are some online alternatives but I’d rather use something good), Steam/, Office… Sorry but I honestly disagree that Google Docs is better – better for team projects maybe.

    Oh and for music, yes I still use iTunes, even as a looooooong time Android user. I’ve tried other music players (none seemed as good) and I’ve tried streaming – Spotify is useless for music I like, Google Play is actually pretty good but it annoyed me that some albums would still be randomly missing half the tracks (I assume license issues but still annoying so I just went back to iTunes).

    • I’m sure there are some online alternatives but I’d rather use something good
      This right here.

      There are web alternatives for a lot of things… But the desktop versions are almost always just better, not to mention less tedious to fire up and start using immediately.

  • This is a bit short-sighted…

    1. There are plenty of apps with no web-based equivalent. I spend a fair chunk of my time in Visual Studio, and there’s no way I can find a web-based utility that comes close to it.
    2. The Internet connection here is sub-par.
    3. Desktop OSes will easily integrate with cloud-based storage. You can store your files and your desktop app settings on the cloud via OneDrive, DropBox, Box etc. That way you still have the speed and functionality of the local app with the benefits of remote storage.
    4. Desktop apps tend to outperform their web-based partners on responsiveness. Have you used Outlook and compared it to Office 365’s Outlook? The UI on the latter is more modern, but the actual responsiveness is solely-dictated by your Internet connection – see point 2. Did you not notice that Word on Office 365 doesn’t even have search-and-replace? Which brings me to…
    5. Compared to desktop apps, web-based apps are generally lower priority for development, and suffer from lower functionality. You can’t open a password-protected document in Word (not that I’d advocate that as a sole security method). You can’t change colours or page layout. You can’t even search and replace. I don’t know how you can advocate switching to cloud apps with so much of your sites’ published content being search-and-replaced articles from US peers.

    It’s one thing to offer a discussion point, it’s another thing entirely to offer a short-sighted conclusion.

  • Nope:

    1. Features
    2. Connection issues
    3. Performance
    4. Security
    5. Content (Spotify and Netflix are great but severely limited)
    6. Programs without web app equivalents

    Maybe people like writers and journos can live without desktop apps but that’s not true for a lot of people.

  • Yeah i’m sure I can use an online version of Maya and Premiere Pro. Same with Unity. Good stuff lol. I have a very good pc. Having local content means i rely solely on my pc and not the internet and other things outside of my control.

  • You Don’t Need Desktop Apps Anymore

    Actually yes, I do. Online versions of Google Docs and MSOffice have severe limits on file sizes they can handle before they break (especially with spreadsheets) and are a lot less responsive than the desktop version (of Office, at least).

    As for music streaming, I use Apple Music and I’m also apparently the one person in the known universe for whom iTunes for Windows actually works properly so I’m well-covered there.

    For everything else, well the article already pointed out how useless online video editors and image editors are. I use Premiere Pro and After Effects most days and good luck making a web-based version of those.

    And *even if* I wanted to use web apps, there’s still the whole privacy issue involved. Right now I use Office’s online storage (OneDrive) to store Word docs but I have the option of saving them elsewhere if I want (say, a personal file I don’t actually want the CIA to scan). I can’t do that with the online apps and there is literally nothing that could ever change that.

    Remember, when people say ‘store it in the cloud!’ what they really mean is ‘store it on somebody else’s computer!’. This is a trash article asking people to do dangerous things with their data.

  • No music web app can compare to a robust destop app such as MusicBee, and really, doesn’t have to. The argument that by principle you should ditch your desktop apps just because web alternatives exist is hardly any more logical than arguing that there’s no point in having physical books anymore now that kindle exist.

  • Can I see the source code of all of these web apps I’m suppose to use instead?
    Then I’ll politely say “no thanks” and continue on my merry way.

    How about we stop teaching people to use other people’s [read: corporations] computers and instead teach them better how to use their own?

  • For the record, Spotify’s local files feature is pretty limited, it doesn’t actually upload to Spotify’s servers, it simply just plays back from your hard drive. So the web player won’t support local files at all.

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