If you look at the software industry, you can clearly see that every application you're using is developed by a professional software solution, who in turn has employed teams of computer engineers. Whereas on the other hand, you can easily find plenty of web applications like websites, servers, PWAs, and APIs built by self-learned developers. Well, you see, web-technologies are easily approachable given you have the right resources and proper dedication. Desktop apps, however, require much sophisticated and expert handling as they are curated by mixing many primitive knowledge bases. Till almost recently, most of the desktop applications we use were system-specific solutions. It means the same application is developed more than once to use on different platforms such as Microsoft Windows, MacOS, and Linux. This approach requires a huge development time and resources whereas posing many system incompatibility issues. To get rid of these problems, and create a much faster and efficient development phase for desktop apps, the Electron framework has been built. It's a cross-platform framework maintained by the folks at Github and is aimed at using web technologies to develop cross-platform highly functional desktop applications. We'll discuss the ins and outs, pros and cons of this framework in today's post. Bear us through if you also want to develop cross-platform desktop applications with plain old web technologies.
Electron and Cross-Platform Apps: In General
Native Apps vs. Cross-platform: Difference
When it comes to designing desktop applications, as a developer you have to take charge of things like packaging, installations, and managing updates. And all of these needs to be independent of system platforms. Designing a desktop app will require you to handle system components like menus and notifications. These things need high-level command over system architecture and prominent programming skills to make sure your app performs what you're trying to achieve. Native apps are, however, powerful and provide developers with a lot of ground to explore. Cross-platform apps, on the other hand, exposes you to web components that you're familiar with and has lots of community support. The access to these standard components and web-based APIs contribute to more productive development experience. The installation is the same for each platform, and the app can be expected to perform the same on different systems. However, there are some serious debates concerning the performance sector of cross-platform apps. As these apps do not use system specific calls and have different approaches to basic functionalities, they often seem to lag behind native apps in terms of horsepower. The cross-platform technologies used in such apps are far behind the dominant system development languages like C++, Objective C, and JAVA regarding the performance metrics. So, the primary ground of argument over cross-platform apps is do their convenience in development justify laggings in performance?
Working Principle of Electron
Why Go The Electron Way?
Whether you're a web developer looking for a quick way to get your ideas out of the server and onto the desktop or you just want an efficient tool to build cross-platform apps with rich user interfaces, Electron can be the right choice for you. If you want to harness elegant desktop applications without facing the redundancies and complexities associated with native apps, go Electron right away. Electron provides you with the experience to build something that's easy to install and simple to maintain. In this time of fast business growth and innovative technological enhancements, Electron gives developers the option to curate their ideas into an application fast and let the customers decide whether they like it or not. With native apps, there'll always be the chance of an app not getting enough traction despite its consumption of a large amount of resource and time for development. You'll get ready-made components like native menus and notifications pre-packaged with Electron, which will give you the scope of developing your apps much faster. The crash reporting and debugging tools will help you hunt even the dirtiest of bugs at ease. In addition, your apps can have automatic updates, which will increase the attraction of your apps to customers much quicker. So, there are more than enough reason to develop your new idea into an Electron app. The decision is now solely up to you and your demands from the application.
Drawbacks of Electron
When to Choose Electron
Although you can build any type of desktop apps with Electron, it's especially suitable in some specific cases. If your app needs a user-friendly interface with a lot of network activities going behind the scene, Electron is the best choice for you. However, if you're building something that requires a lot of raw processing powers, we highly recommend you to develop native apps. As they can give you access to underlying system components at a much lower level, native apps are the best choice for resource-heavy desktop apps. Electron apps are the most viable option for you if your app acts similar in fashion to web pages.
Notable Desktop Apps Developed using Electron
Electron has been used to develop some of the best desktop applications in recent times. The first such project is the Atom code editor from Github, the pioneers of the framework itself. Atom enjoys mass popularity to till date. Although superior editors like Microsoft's' Visual Code, another top-level Electron product has overthrown Atom's position as the top open source code editor. The primary reason behind VS code's en masse success is it doesn't clog up the memory as Atom did. If you're a seasoned developer, chances are you're using Slack every day. It's a popular cross-platform productivity app built on top of Electron. It's aimed at increasing development productivity with simplified communication scheme. The performance of Slack is enough to establish the fact that if appropriately incorporated, Electron apps can be an extremely viable option for desktop apps. Other notable mentions utilizing Electron are Skype's desktop client, the famous image writing app Etcher, the WebTorrent desktop app, the WordPress desktop app, and the WhatsApp desktop app.
Future of Electron Apps
With the rapid increase of progressive web apps and API-based apps in the market every day, it's safe to say that Electron will gradually conquer the desktop app building platform. It comes with some of the most sought-after features developers look when building desktop apps, at a slight cost of performance. However, as systems are getting more powerful and cheaper everyday, developers have now the luxury of choosing Electron as the de-facto stack to build their apps. Also slowly but gradually, corporate software giants like Microsoft and Google are developing Electron-based apps of their own. As they keep coming new developers will follow their footstep and embrace Electron for their personalized apps even more. We predict that it'll not take long before Electron becomes the go-to solution for building desktop apps.
Desktop apps are experiencing an exclusive comeback each day. We've come to a point where it's no longer acceptable to spend years of development time behind these applications. Due to their superior productivity and reduced cost, it will not be false to say that Electron apps are the future of desktop applications. However, a lot can be improved to provide even a much smooth desktop app experience with Electron. With the popularity it's been enjoying, we can definitely hope Electron apps to match the firepower of their native counterparts. Let's not stay idle till then, rather you should utilize these time to learn and build your own desktop apps with this fantastic framework