The benefits of the web as a platform

I'll be the first to admit that from the technical standpoint the web is very, very far from being a coherent stack of technologies. It's more of a patchwork of languages of varying levels of unpleasantness and protocols that may only vaguely fit what they are used for. The simplest things can require arcane tricks to make them work. Case in point: page layouts. Or file uploading. Or rich text editors. The list goes on.

However, the web also has a large number of advantages compared to other platforms and I thought it would be interesting to list them.

For users:

  • There is nothing to install, just open a web page
  • You never need to install updates either, you're always on the latest version
  • For the most part, you don't need to worry about viruses as you aren't downloading anything
  • Storage, backups and security are taken care of (at least in theory); in practice local backups may still make sense, storage isn't unlimited and may get expensive, and you can't be certain about the level of security; however, all these things are probably improving
  • If we're talking about business users, the need for “IT guys” is greatly reduced because of the above
  • Reduced learning curve because web apps typically have simpler UI
  • The apps can easily be accessed from anywhere (possibly even from your phone!), again without requiring setup from an IT guy
  • The apps will work on any platform; it doesn't matter if you're on a PC or a Mac, or even use a bizarre Linux OS (unless Flash or Silverlight or a similar plugin is involved; at least the days of ActiveX seem to be behind us)
  • No need to pay a large amount of money upfront because web apps are subscription based

In short, web apps save time, are more convenient, and you can save quite a bit of money on IT help.

For vendors:

  • No distribution issues as people don't need to download installers or updates
  • Less need for training as the UI is generally simpler and there isn't much of a learning curve
  • A lot less need for support because for the most part the apps just work and you don't need to deal with a million different configurations (some issues can be caused by browser extensions like AdBlock for example, but generally speaking the problem space is much smaller)
  • No need to worry about different platforms (other than smartphones)
  • Piracy is impossible or at least significantly reduced with web apps
  • Subscription based access provides recurring revenue and thus a steadier income stream
  • It can be easier to sell web apps because they can provide instant gratification to the user
  • You have an unprecedented ability to track users' activity; you know how many people are actively using your app, what they do with it, you can make usability improvements by tracking their interaction with each page and you can even correlate account cancellations with usage patterns
  • The web allows the availability of various services that can be integrated with as little effort as pasting one line of HTML (examples include billing, live chat, support and knowledge base functionality, surveys and so on).
  • As the platform becomes more and more popular, the pool of available developers, designers etc. is growing
  • It's probably easier to obtain investment/funding for web apps because of all these benefits

In short, the web allows you to make products faster, sell them easier, and have lower running costs.