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Desktop Usability VS Web Usability

Compare for people to understand



8:38 am on Sep 1, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Hi all!
One man asked me to write some article for his people.. They are
mainly software developers. Some are highly professional.

And he asked me to make some short article which.. will explain those
people what are the biggest differences between web usability and
desktop usability.

Ok, that is really obvious for web developer.. But I am not great
software developer specialist, so I can tell only from my point of
view, not knowing their field..
Of course, web and desktop software are solving different tasks.
But I am speaking about interfaces and usability - people use both
web and usual software to make some actions, no matter they are
Maybe you can help??

Generally, to start from:
> Resolution - in web you can never rely on some resolution or color
depth, although you can do it in desktop programming
> Hardware - same story.. no chances to demand anything from the user.
Desktop developers always have minimum configuration notice. Below
that the software will not work fast enough or will not work at all
> Navigation - you can never tell how your web visitors will use your
navigation through out the site. They can find the deepest page
through the web engine and then navigate all over the site. In desktop
world, you can control the user's behavior - he will never start
somewhere you do not want him to... all softwares start from some

> Easy to leave - in web, if people can not do something on your site,
they can easily leave to another.. just 1 click. In Desktop, it is
not so easy and most users will try to study this stupid software or
even call the support

>tools in web - of course, web has much less tools in some
fields ( for example, form elements are much more feature-rich in
desktop world ), although others are more advanced . Also, you can
hardly make the 100% correct drop down menu, like it is in usual
desktop softwares

> Unified - web usability does not depend on OS and platform. Desktop
usability GREATLY depends on the OS and platform
> Icons - icons are the rule in desktop development.. But much harder situation in web

Ok, can you add/modify something??????
Thanks to all!


12:06 pm on Sep 1, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Well, the most obvious and profound difference in my opinion would be:
Nearly every program has a File menu, an Edit menu, a Help menu, a toolbar with icons etc and users know where to find all that because they've seen it in other programs.
Web sites have much more diverse, non-standardized navigation.


1:37 pm on Sep 1, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

c3oc3o, great point about standard elements..Thanks!


3:37 pm on Sep 1, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member korkus2000 is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I think to really look at the differences between web sites and software programs we need to define them. There are exceptions to everything and if you don't define users interaction with both, you will be side tracked on these exceptions.

Web Site - A web site is a collection of information contained on the Internet for the general public to interact with (this is a basic generalization of information sites. If we start to get into ecommerce, web reporting, and applications they should start to follow a hybrid of both web and software usability.).

Application Software - A desktop application is a program run locally on a client machine that performs tasks for the user.(Again this is a generalization to simplify our discussion).

So why don't we start a list that everyone can add to?

Web Site Usability
1.A web site information should be obvious and easy to get to.

2.A web site's navigation should be clear about where each link will take you at a glance.

3.Web sites should allow normal browser operations to be performed. Disabling normal browser functions like back, right click (apple click or secondary clicking), and refresh damage usability. The browser itself is Application Software and adheres to its own usability. Users understand its functions and should be able to perform it's tasks without a browsers content over-riding its functionality. Example: Disabling right click (apple click or secondary clicking) to stop people from stealing graphics and code only hurts usability. Users can turn JavaScript off to steal them anyway, but you stop normal users from using this function.

4.A web site should load quickly to help users get the information from the site in a timely manner.

5.Users should decide what pages they want to see on a web site and not be hijacked by the browser’s content.

6.Any terms of service, privacy policies, or other important information for the user should be put in a conspicuous place for users to easily find and read.

7.Web sites should not break because of user preferences in the browser (JavaScript turned off, no images, and other browser options), interaction with the site (filling out forms, clicking links, and regular browsing functions. Web sites that do perform validation and allow user interaction should have the ability to perform these actions completely removed from the browser. Example: Form validation should be perform not only client side with JavaScript, but server-side to insure that user preferences don't invalidate your validation. It is the site's obligation to insure information is properly formatted and not the user. The user should expect any action on the site to perform as stated.

8.Web sites should work with all common browsers and operating systems. There is a common set of markup that works on all common browsers. It is possible to insure that a sight works and looks properly across platforms and browsers. Making sights that only work in a certain operating system or browser destroys usability for users without your requirements.

9.Any aspect of the site that does not enhance usability or the general focus of the content is extraneous and should be excluded.

Application Software Usability
1.Application software should perform its tasks flawlessly on all systems that are covered by its requirements. Example: Many games change color depth on a computer to 256 colors. An application with 256 colors included in its requirements should not remove subtle colors informs and tables.

2.Users should have at least to ways to perform operations in an application. Use of the file/edit bar and a toolbar (floating and nonfloating). Applications should also allow advanced users to quickly perform its operations. It is also recommended that applications include hot key or keyboard shortcut operations for common tasks. Right click (apple click or secondary clicking) menus are recommended to include operations associated with the element click on.

3.Operation icons should include tool tips (hover information of the operation similar to alt tags attributes for images), a legend, or text labels identifying the action performed by clicking it.

4.All elements should allow operating system preferences to be used. Operating system themes should be able to hook into the application.

5.Software installation should include all necessary information for the program to run.

6.All icons should have a consistent look throughout the application based on the common application visual language. This also includes cursors for drag drop and other mouse events.

7.Applications should include searchable help through the application interface.

8.Any problems that occur within the application should notify the user what happened.

9.Basic operating system commands like cut and paste should be available in the application.

Global Usability
1.All form fields should be validated.

2.Input fields should have sequential and obvious tab order.

3.Niether should inhibit normal operating system functions.

4.Niether should interact with other applications or programs without users consent.

5.Niether should damage the user's machine or other information on their machine.

6.Actions should be clearly labeled and do what they say.

These are just some basic usability guidelines. There are exceptions to each rule, but if followed can give your users a better experience.


4:33 pm on Sep 2, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Thanks korkus2000,
I understand what you mean.. But my idea was some different - to give the difference between 2 approcaches.
For example:
>1.A web site information should be obvious and easy to get to.
Same with Desktop programming.

>2.A web site's navigation should be clear about where each link will take you at a glance.
Same with desktop programming. Link=menu item.

And I speak more about the difference.
You have posted some good differences!


6:12 pm on Sep 3, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member mivox is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

The main difference I would see in the UI is that a desktop program should enable serious users to set preferences and customize the interface to their personal working style to a certain extent... if the software offers enough advantages/uses to the end user, they will be willing to put out a little effort to learn the best ways of using it. OTOH, a website (unless it has some extremely valuable exclusive feature or content) needs to be widely useable for everyone right off the bat.

With Photoshop, I'm willing to put in a few hours on a new version just to try out the new features and get my preferences set up. If I'm shopping for something online, there's no way I'm spending a few hours on your site setting up a user profile and figuring out how your shopping cart works. I'll go elsewhere.

Desktop software is allowed to have a learning curve... websites need to be as close to idiot-proof as possible. No learning curve allowed.


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