Web Software vs. Native Linux Software

Monday Sep 29th 2014 by Matt Hartley
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Both Web-based software and Linux software offer significant costs savings. Is one actually better in the long term?

In years past, it wasn't uncommon to rely on a particular operating system because of the software it provided. Mind you, this was before the popularity of web-based applications that can work on any Internet-capable platform. Back then, any task – ranging from word processing down to video editing – had to be done from locally installed software.

Flash forward to now, web applications today have the ability to offer office suite functionality and make live edits to various forms of video/audio media. In this article, I'll explore the differences between locally installed Linux applications and their web-based counter parts.

Connectivity is king

It doesn't matter what application you want to use, the fact of the matter is that web-based apps require an Internet connection. Even when you consider web applications that offer a caching functionality, designed to allow for limited offline usage, web apps still depend heavily on an Internet connection.

For example, to take Google Docs (Drive) into offline mode, it's recommended you use the Chrome browser. Next, you're required to follow this guide which requires steps that are unneeded with a locally installed application. Remember, most web-based applications don't work at all without Internet connectivity. So while some of Google's own web apps offer great functionality, they're not even remotely comparable to a locally installed app.

But wait! The Internet is available practically everywhere these days, right? This is true, yet much of this connectivity is offered up through expensive metered plans both at home and on your mobile device. And when it comes to using an online video editor vs watching videos with a limited allotment of bandwidth available, usually the desire to "watch" the video wins out.

There are simply too many instances where it's not practical to do some desktop application tasks with Web applications. Luckily, editing documents and uploading a limited number of pictures isn't too intensive with regard to bandwidth.

Going forward, web applications will eventually need to address their need for Internet access. Until this happens, I fear web applications will continue to be seen as a second choice to locally installed software titles.

The legacy software factor

When you ask most people why they or their workplaces continue to rely on the Windows desktop, most of the time the response is the same – legacy software and support. This means the platform, Windows, remains positioned to maintain its dominance because of locally installed legacy applications like Microsoft Office.

If your company's spreadsheet work flow is tied into Microsoft Excel, are you really willing to gamble that your critical data would be safe in a "cloud" application instead? Some might be willing to take this leap of faith, but others still remain grounded in the belief that locally installed apps will provide a better user experience.

To be clear, I myself am not making this claim. I'm simply pointing out that this is something that has been known to keep folks from making the leap to the cloud for their critical data.

Now obviously, there are ample exceptions to this example. Schools, governments, and even some businesses that have successfully dumped legacy office suites in the interest of pursuing web application alternatives. But for many smaller to mid-sized businesses, the idea of switching to web-based applications seems risky.

In reality, many businesses would actually benefit from switching to web-based software. These businesses have strong Internet connectivity, plus there may a financial benefit in switching to cloud applications.

The Linux equation

When a business, school or government switches over to a cloud-based solution, it's because there is a financial benefit. Whether the cost savings happen immediately or in the long term, however you look at it, the point is most people agree that cloud-based software can offer significant savings.

And in the interest of additional financial savings, desktop Linux adoption is also seeing a significant uptick. Keeping in mind that web applications are being accessed from any modern browser, suddenly the need for a "specific" operating system becomes a thing of the past. Linux, available without any sort of licensing cost, is more than suited to run today's modern web-based applications.

Despite this reality, we still see holdouts who feel that switching to Linux might put them at risk of missing out on legacy (locally installed) applications such as various accounting software titles.

Web-based vs locally installed offerings

One of the most popular business models for select web-based applications allows you to pay someone else to manage the application for you. This is the case with the open source accounting software, BeanBooks.

Available as a freely available self-hosted tool or a fee-based hosted solution, BeanBooks is one of the better open source accounting programs available today. Best of all, you're not required to run this with Windows whatsoever. The OS you use to connect to the BeanBooks server is up to you.

OwnCloud is another example of taking back your data from proprietary lock-in software models. Install and host yourself, or have someone else do it for you. Either way, you're not required to run Windows to enjoy this web-based software. Firefox or any other standard web browser provides you with instant access to an OwnCloud server with the appropriate connection.

Both of the above examples are applications that are considered web apps and aren't locally installed software titles. And to be frank, they're addressing direct shortcomings with locally installed software titles for the Linux platform – accounting and collaborative office suite functionality.

As much as I might wish to see locally installed Linux applications become preferred over those locally installed legacy Windows apps, the fact is, this isn't going to happen any time soon. And I believe this is an area that web applications can be of some help.

Web-base push users to Linux?

Can web-based applications win out in pushing more businesses over to Linux desktops in the future? The short answer to this is yes, but not because it's a better experience. The reason why web application adoption will continue to mature is because of cost and control, not user experience. In addition, I see this adoption expanding more with schools and governments than with home users.

No matter what the future holds, I'm a die-hard fan of locally installed applications. Not because they look better or are more stable, but because they don't require me to constantly maintain an Internet connection.

Call it a cry for personal freedom from the cloud if you want, but I call it freedom of choice as to where I store my documents and pictures. And from my perspective, locally installed Linux applications are more than enough to handle what I throw at them. I just wish the rest of the world could see it this way as well.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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