No more Apps!

By Marc Edwards
February 29, 2020


It is no wonder that many of us use the browser as the centre of our work life (and often fun life too).

We use it to get the news, often to get emails too, communicate and chat with others, look for interesting things, watch videos and so on. But more recently the browser took on a bigger role in our lives with the advent of Web Applications.

This article will explain why it has become our center, but more importantly, give you a glimpse of the future of computing technology.

What is a Web Application

A Web Application is a more powerful website. It uses some of the latest web browser capability to run most of its work on your device.

In the past, you would load up a website and a server would send you the page to display. With a Web App you download an application which takes care of the display for you. The server is now responsible for remote functions only (e.g. logging in, storing and updating data etc.)

With a Web Application, the application in your browser takes care of managing the interface. It is no longer server-generated

With recent advances, we can now store in your browser's memory (or cache) critical parts of an application. So you don't have to reload it every time you visit the same page again.

Case in point: After you log in the first time to OneOffice and move around, log out and do it again. It will be much faster. We store the application in your browser. Makes for a much smoother experience.

Why is this so cool

This means you can work faster and better. You can access and work online so much easier and smoother.

It also means you no longer need to install actual applications on your computer. It can all sit in your browser.

Well-designed Web Apps manage what is stored on your device. As new versions are deployed, it clears your cache and downloads a new version of the files that changed

For example, with OneOffice, we store the fonts, images and the code in your browser. If we just change the code, you only need to download that changed code. The rest is fetched from your browser's cache.

Another major advantage is cost. You no longer need to have the most advanced processors in your users' computers. You no longer need to get large computer disks and memory so your users can store all their data. You also have less worries when it comes to backups, as it is now centralized.

The Dilemma - Do I have to be online?

The short answer is yes. Most of our work is online anyway. By going the web app route, you now have a better utilization of your resources.

Many organizations mitigate the need to be online by installing local servers. We recommend our clients install the local version of OneOffice

For larger organizations having a local server dramatically improves user experience.

Some apps are designed to be offline-first. Which means when the internet is down, it still loads in your browser, but with limited abilities

Back to the future

When computers first existed, the cost of hardware was really high. So engineers deployed expensive mainframes (large servers) and cheaper 'dumb' terminals to users. This centralized approach made it easier for system administrators to manage a single central core and the users did not have to worry about updates and new apps.

With the proliferation of cheaper hardware, IT groups are now faced with hundreds of devices and applications to maintain for their employees.

We are now at the third phase of technology, where we are centralizing again the applications (but this time in the cloud -- including local clouds) and using the cpu power of the local device to do the rendering and user interface work.

By reducing the number of applications installed and moving towards web applications, the technology team is better able to secure their infrastructure. Also, data is no longer spread out on hundreds of devices. It is managed and secured centrally

This has a drastic impact on security. A positive one.


By having a centralized data structure, with secure connections to our users, it is now much harder for hackers to get in.

We are now focusing all our efforts on securing a centralized cluster of servers. We no longer have to worry about every user device being a security hole.

Ensuring users follow good security practices has always been the key challenge of IT departments


A centralized and secured infrastructure is now within reach again. This is the reason the big players are moving their offerings to become SaaS (Software as a Service) based. They recognize users no longer want the hassle of installing applications, and worrying about security and backups on each device.

We are now moving towards a more organized and streamlined technology space. Welcome to the future.

Addendum: Technology

If you are a technology addict like us, you are probably wondering: "What changes to the browser have made this possible?". Here are the main reasons:

  • A major improvement in the JavaScript engine, making them capable of running applications at almost native speed (especially applications that run WebAssembly to process complex math).
  • Dramatic improvements in web standards, including local caching (Service Workers), communication (WebRTC), local database in the browser (IndexDB), image size optimizations, compression, load bundling and a host of others.
  • R&D in the DOM rendering engine. This is what generates the pages you see now. Advanced websites (like the one you are perusing now) don't send the full HTML + scripts + styles for every page load. Instead we render the pages dynamically and reuse blocks from a page to the next.
  • Improvements in the tool chains and frameworks, i.e. the tools we use to develop & deploy. For instance, our website and docs are built with ReactJS, a powerful web UI framework built by Facebook.
  • Standardizations of the major browsers. We no longer have to worry about difference in implementations. Chrome, Edge and Safari all use the same engine, called WebKit / Chromium (if you haven't already, stop using Internet Explorer).
  • Dramatically improved browser security. With secured connections to servers and hardened security keys, it is now next to impossible for someone to spy on your employees.

In short, the modern browser is a full-fledged Virtual Machine. This is how ChromeBooks are built, a single browser that handles everything.

All these improvements together make for a fertile space to build and innovate, right in the browser.

Marc Edwards
Marc Edwards is a principal engineer at OneOffice. You won't find any fluff in his articles. It's all serious technical stuff to know (or more often than not, to worry about). He is responsible for architecture and security, specifically for our online deployments (Huawei Cloud mostly).

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