Updated June 5, 2023
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 want 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 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.
This article acts as a guide for beginners looking to know if a desktop app or a mobile app (whether it is iOS or Android) is the right choice for their business. Or if a Windows app from the Microsoft store is more in line with your company needs? What questions should you be asking if developing a desktop application?
Developing desktop applications? Browse our list of software development companies that have the right programmers for the job.
What to Ask Before Building a Desktop App
- Do I need a desktop application?
- Who will use the desktop app?
- Should I support one or cross-platform?
- Which development tools, programming languages, and frameworks do I need?
- Will it perform complex operations and functionalities?
- How do I distribute it?
- 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 (user experience) or UI that would be hard to achieve with a web app.
- The desktop app needs a high level of security to protect confidential information.
- The desktop app requires more processing power (GPU and CPU) for features and functionalities 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.
Once you decide to build a desktop application, move onto the next six questions to define its structure.
2. Who Will Use My Desktop 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 desktop 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 the development process, you must determine what platform the app will run on: Windows, Mac, Linux, or cross-platform? The operating system you choose will define the specific programming 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 desktop 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?
Many great desktop app frameworks 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 or codebase, then you can use their specific platform and frameworks:
- Windows: Works with Microsoft Visual Studio and (usually) .NET, but is also open to Python, C#, C++, Visual Basic, IDE (which help users compile data), and others.
- Linux: Usually works with QT Creator and the C++/Qt language framework.
- Cross-platform: Many options like Electron, 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 own research, looking at tutorials, 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. A multi-threaded architecture might be the correct approach if your application needs to perform complex operations. Multi-threading allows the desktop application to run multiple operations in its toolkit 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 using multiple cores and processors when available. Instead of having one processor do 100 operations, you can have four 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 to deliver the application to your target users. Each distribution platform has its own rules, dependencies, 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?
Before beginning the development process, the final question you should ask yourself is: “Is my app covered on all legal points?” Meaning, are all the licenses for third-party libraries, development 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 either buy an expensive license or replace the library with another (or build a custom solution). This requires a time investment and is unpleasant to do in the final stage.
Ask Yourself Key Development Questions Before Building a Desktop App
When starting an application development project, you must first decide whether to build a web app, mobile 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 desktops you must determine before beginning the development process, including:
- Your target users and their needs
- What platform the desktop app will run on
- The app’s language, key development tools, and framework
- How users will access the app
Once you have asked yourself these questions, you must put together the frontend and backend development specs, a maintenance plan for debugging, and a strategic promotional plan for app launch, or consult an app modernization company. At this point, being honest with yourself during the development process is very important.