Are desktop apps dead?

Technology · 

I don’t know if you noticed, but a trend started to shape during the past few years, with incredible web-based products taking over their aging desktop counterparts.

I’m talking about Figma and InVision making designers quickly abandon Photoshop and Sketch, Webflow replacing the good old Dreamweaver without too much trouble, Vectary trying to seduce Maya’s and Cinema 4D’s users, Airtable and Coda battling to kill Excel, Dropbox Paper making us forget about Word, and of course, Ludus trying to throw shade at PowerPoint and Keynote.

Why is that?

It’s simple. We finally arrived at a point where web technologies can compete with native technologies, at least on desktops. We now have awesome frameworks like React, Vue.js, Angular or Ember.js that allows us to go pretty far in terms of interfaces and interactions, when 10 years ago, we were happy to build “2.0” websites by adding some jQuery on top of our HTML and CSS (and those who were not happy were using Flash 😢).

Also, standard technologies like SVG, canvas or WebGL are now starting to become mature and allow web applications to have a native feel. Thus, developing a desktop application both for macOS and Windows, and asking your users to run an installer before being able to use your product doesn’t make sense anymore, especially if you’re a startup with limited resources.

Ludus is itself a combination of React and Fabric.js (an awesome canvas library we recently started contributing to) which makes it very fast and responsive. We use CSS and JavaScript specificities that we couldn’t have used only one year ago, due to limited browser support (for example, the mix-blend-mode CSS property). Things are moving fast!

What about connectivity?

It’s true that most web applications will require an Internet connection to work properly, even though the technology is here to make web applications available offline, to the point that some folks are even pushing for offline first. It’s also true that making this possible probably requires more effort than making a desktop application working offline (which actually requires 0 effort as it is the natural state of a desktop application). But for a web application, is that really an issue not being available offline? The world is more and more connected and looking at how fast things are going, we can expect to be fully connected everywhere we go with super fast 7G connections (or whatever the name will be) within 10 years.

At Ludus, we know that our beloved users are mostly creating their presentations in “safe” environments with good Internet connections, mainly from a corporate office, from a coworking space, or from home. The main issue is the environment where the presentations are given, which is, most of the time, unpredictable. That’s why we focus our efforts on providing good offline alternatives for the viewing experience, not so much for the editing experience, at least for now. What makes Ludus great is all the integrations with external services we offer, like YouTube, GIPHY, Unsplash, CodePen, InVision, Framer, and many more. The PDF export we provide will make you lose all that awesomeness, but at least you have something as a backup in case the people organizing the talk/conference you’re giving didn’t do their job correctly.

Where are my files?

Speaking of PDF, another thing that will probably disappear with everything moving to the web is the concept of files. Even though Ludus will add the possibility to import .pptx and .key and even provide a .lud file format at some point, we think that this notion of files will definitely disappear sooner than later. Don’t get us wrong, we don’t think popular formats like PDF, PNG, or MP4 will vanish tomorrow, we simply think that there is a chance they will be distributed via streams or APIs instead of via files that you physically save on your computer. When this will happen, our hard disks will only be useful for caching. And you know what? It’s actually already what’s happening on your smartphone and your tablet, especially when you’re using apps like Netflix or Spotify. You don’t have File Explorer or Finder on these devices and that almost certainly never bothered you. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Vincent Battaglia © 2021