Understanding why web apps are so different from native apps

Posted by: Browsium Tags: Posted date:


Enterprise organizations run a variety of business applications – some browser-based and some native.  We commonly hear the question: Is there really much difference between web applications and native applications? They all work in largely the same way, right? Here lies a common misconception. These application types are in fact quite different – they impact your IT environment differently and need to be managed differently.

We should first be clear, by native applications we mean desktop and client/server business applications. They are contained to the desktop and server and therefore are relatively simple to manage with robust and mature management tools available from many vendors. However, today browser-based applications have supplanted native applications in both number and importance in the enterprise. Browser-based or web applications operate in browser environments which may appear to be simple, but in fact are highly complex. Understanding more clearly how these application types are different and getting the tools you need to analyze and manage browser-based applications will vastly improve your IT operations. Here’s a deeper look at these two application types.

Browsers are complex like an operating system

As mentioned, the most substantial difference with web applications is the reality that browsers are massively complex and more like an operating system than a standalone application. Browsers are designed to take content from an undefined set of sources, then compile and render the information for display and interaction with the user. The dynamic technologies used to create web applications can enable these browser-based experiences to perform nearly any function or interact with physical devices, all dependent upon the given business application requirements. Several components are required to make this happen, and it’s the combination of those components and system resources that make web applications a very different type of management challenge.

The browser is designed to provide web applications with a broad surface area to create virtually any experience. In basic terms, a browser’s core components include a rendering engine to handle display elements, a script engine to interpret and compile JavaScript (among other languages), and an extension model for developers to build specialized components to handle tasks not envisioned or offered by the browser itself. In addition, browsers offer Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), usually accessed by scripts or extensions, to interact with operating system-based resources, further expanding the capabilities of a browser-based application.

Using this framework, it becomes clear how the browser is more like an operating system as well as the complexity the browser employs to generate even ‘simple’ web applications. All of the browser’s core components bring together a disparate set of resources, loads and interprets them, then renders and displays them to the user. It is virtually impossible to know what resources a given web application may need until the web application is accessed and tries to load and process the content.

In addition to a lack of resource visibility and the unpredictability of application requirements, web applications all run in browser’s memory space, share the same browser environment variables, and access the same version of any loaded extensions. Trying to load two or more web applications with different environmental requirements (such as opposing values for the same feature setting) isn’t natively possible – additional software tools, like Browsium’s solutions, are required or all web applications must be rationalized to a uniform standard. In theory, that approach would be ideal, but in practice it’s impossible to rewrite or replace every web application to meet a common set of requirements. Even if an organization did find a way to undertake this massive effort, it would be a wasted effort in a short time given the rate of change generated by browser vendors and standards specification bodies. Trying to keep up would put the organization on a constant treadmill and consume significant resources.

Native applications are well defined and self-contained

By comparison, a traditional native application is generally well-defined and more importantly, self-contained. Native applications are packaged and distributed as a unit, and include any custom libraries (DLLs) or other resources they may need. In addition, the operating system design loads the executable into a unique memory space which does not overlap with other applications. Two native applications with competing requirements can be loaded simultaneously, side-by-side, using the built-in capabilities of the operating system – no additional steps are required. Local resource loading from within the current directory and the use of application environment variables make all of this possible.

Web applications offer greater flexibility to organizations. The fact that web applications are deployed at a rate multiple times higher than that of native applications, makes it clear they are here to stay. But in technology, as in life, nothing is free. The cost of this flexibility is an increase in application management challenges. Deploying a modern desktop environment, complete with its range of powerful web applications, requires an understanding of the complexities of this environment. Proceeding without the modern tools required to understand and manage these complexities creates a large blind spot in your IT infrastructure.

The importance of browser management

That’s where Browsium is here to help. We were founded to address the challenges of browser-based application environments. The browser is in our DNA. We’re building tools designed for these unique challenges, not trying to bend older solutions to fit the new browser paradigm. Let us help you meet the challenges of browser-based application management. Our browser management platform is ready with powerful tools to cost-effectively manage and secure your web browsers and web applications at global scale.


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