7 Questions You Should Ask Before Building Desktop Applications

September 09, 2019

In today's computing world, most app requirements can be fulfilled using web technologies and browser-based UIs. Additionally, building a web app is often a simpler, shorter, and less resource-intensive effort. These advantages have caused desktop apps to become an afterthought in the custom development world. 

Are you wondering whether desktop application development is right for you? Would a web application work better? And if desktop development is the correct choice, what would it even entail? 

Desktop apps have a lot going for them. If you are looking for a user-friendly, responsive solution, desktop apps are more readily available, present, and accessible for users than web apps. Some projects will require extra support, and the higher processing capabilities of desktop apps allows them to handle more complex workflows than web apps. 

At Scopic Software, our nearly 15 years of experience building custom desktop applications for different industries has taught us that building a successful app comes down to one thing: Understanding what you really need.

This can include the platforms the app needs to be accessible on, the framework you want to use, and the needs of the audience you’re catering to. 

ask yourself these questions before building a desktop app.
What to Ask Before Building a Desktop App

  1. Do I need a desktop application?
  2. Who will use it?
  3. Should I support one or cross-platform?
  4. Which tools and frameworks do I need?
  5. Will it perform complex operations?
  6. How do I distribute it?
  7. Do I need licensing?

1. Would a Web App or Desktop App Benefit My Business More? 

The most obvious question is whether you actually need a desktop application. Some of the clear indicators that you do need a desktop solution are: 

  • The product requires a specific hardware interaction.
  • You want to provide a UX or UI that would be hard to achieve with a web app.
  • The app needs a high level of security to protect confidential information. 
  • The app requires more processing power (both on GPU and CPU level) for features such as 3D software, computer vision, image processing, or advanced algorithms. 
  • The app needs to run in a non-internet environment.
  • The solution requires significant RAM memory or other hardware resources including large screens (between 4K and 8K), special kind of input device, or card readers. 

Compare and contrast desktop and web applications

Once you decide to build a desktop application, move onto the next 6 questions to define its structure.  

2. Who Will Use My App and What Do They Need?

If you developed a big idea, then it was probably in response to a need you saw. After all, products and services are designed based on the demands or necessities of a specific niche. Unfortunately, these needs can become secondary concerns in some development projects. Before you jump into actually developing your solution, make sure that it fulfills your target audience’s needs. 

First, get to know your audience. They’re the ones who will determine whether your app is worth using. Learning about their preferences and analyzing the market and your competition are key. 

This will help you bring a user-focused approach to the development process. It’s also more likely the resulting app will be crisp and innovative for your users. 

3. Single Platform or Cross-platform Desktop App Development? 

Before beginning development, you first have to determine what platform the app will run on: Windows, Mac, Linux, or cross-platform? The operating system you choose will define the specific languages or frameworks you can use. 

If your software solution is going to fill a specific need (for internal use or for only one type of customers) then find the platform that you or your customer are already familiar with. However, if your application is going to be sold for massive use or to the general public, it’s best to create a cross-platform solution so you don’t limit your audience. 

4. Which Tool and Framework Should I Use?

There are many great desktop app frameworks that work for all platforms and others that just work with a specific operating system. Each has its own advantages and limitations, so the choice depends on what you want. If you are focusing on only one operating system, then you can use their specific platform and frameworks:

  • Windows: Works with Microsoft Virtual Studio and (usually) .NET, but is also open to Python, C#, C++, Visual Basic, and others.
  • MacOs: Works with Cocoa and (usually) Xcode, but also supports Python, Ruby, Perl, and C++.
  • Linux: Usually works with QT Creator and the C++/Qt language framework.
  • Cross-platform: Many options, but the most common is C++/Qt. 

The framework and tools you use to build your app will define such things as the speed of development, the performance of the application, scale of app–system interactions, and screen resolutions supported. Performing your our research or asking a subject-matter expert for advice are the best ways to choose your solution’s platform.

5. Is My Desktop App Going to Perform Complex Operations? 

This is an important architecture decision-point. If your application needs to perform complex operations, a multi-threaded architecture might be the correct approach. Multi-threading allows the application to run multiple operations at the same time. 

It can be useful in complex operations. The single-processor system can handle user input on one side without hindering the responsiveness required to execute long-running tasks that don’t require user intervention in the background. 

Additionally, it can be useful to speed up execution by making use of multiple cores and processors when available. Instead of having 1 processor do 100 operations, you can have 4 processors do 25 operations each. This reduces the time needed four-times over.

6. How Am I Going to Distribute the Application?

This is an organizational point, but that doesn’t make it any less important. You need to plan how you will deliver the application to your target users. Each distribution platform has its own rules and guidelines that must be carefully followed if you want to be fully compliant. 

If your application is accessing a specific resource without consent, it will be blocked by the operating system or marked as potentially harmful, which can drive users away. 

Just because you built a desktop app doesn’t mean you can distribute it through the App Store or the Windows Store. For more information on the guidelines and specifications for each, you can check out the official App Store Submission and Windows Store Submission.

7. Will I Need To Do Any Licensing? 

The final question you should ask yourself before beginning development is: “Is my app covered on all legal points?” Meaning, are all the licenses in order for third-party libraries, tools, and frameworks? 

Using an unlicensed library can cause a lot of problems down the line. Imagine you completed the project only to learn that the core library is not open source. You may to either buy an expensive license or replace the library with another (or build a custom solution). This requires a time investment and is not pleasant to do in the final stage. 

Ask Yourself Key Development Questions Before Building a Desktop App

When starting an application development project, the first decision you must make is whether to build a web app or a desktop app. If you are looking for a powerful app with better processing capabilities, then a desktop app is the way to go. 

There are several other important characteristics of all desktop you must determine before beginning development including: 

  • Your target users and their needs
  • What platform the app will run on
  • The app’s language and framework
  • How users will access the app 

Once you have asked yourself these questions, you simply have to put together the development specs and a strategic promotional plan or consult with an app modernization company. At this point, it’s very important to be honest with yourself. 

We at Scopic Software understand how important it is to answer these questions before diving into a new project. If you don’t have the technical knowledge to make decisions about these questions, find someone to assess your solution and provide expert consulting services.

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