Web client or desktop client? | AccountingWEB

Web client or desktop client?

Hi everyone,

there is a lot of discussion around the pros and cons of cloud and SaaS solutions, however one aspect that I think is often overlooked is the end-user experience.

I'd like to know your opinion, do you prefer, from a user experience point of view:

-a rich desktop client (traditional style solution)


-a browser based client that runs like a web-page?

 I know a lot of people are keen on desktop clients because it may be what they are used to, or they find it more responsive, or quicker to input data, etc. and likewise other people prefer browser based clients for their flexibility, ability to access from anywhere, platform agnostic etc.

What's your personal experience and what elements of each do you feel are most important?

The reason I ask is that some software vendors (notably Microsoft) are exploring solutions which are almost hybrid, like a desktop client in a browser window, or a so called "thin client", which gets its data from the internet but presents it in a desktop client.

It will be interesting to see whether these are more or less successful than the fully browser based, webpage style systems such as Netsuite and FinancialForce which are well established in the market.


Paul Scholes's picture

Am a convert at the moment

Paul Scholes | | Permalink

Hi David, firstly it's always a bit of a journey for non techies to get through the jargon, eg "platform agnostics", presumably anyone who believes in a platform but isn't sure which is the real one?  I thought I was OK with a "rich desktop client" and memories came flooding back of pens & files flying off (but let's not go there), then I realised you were on about software sitting on my desktop in a box with a few leads in & out?

Anyway, the SaaS experience of bookkeeping (now 3 month in) has been a breath of fresh air.  Yes individual transactions and shifting functions may be a bit delayed but for most clients (humans!) the old desktop stuff is cumbersome and cluttered and can take just as long overall.

Another benefit has been the speed of updates & enhancements, ie a number of suggestions & wishes to the provider all being made available within a matter of weeks, don't think I ever got that before, probably because the way the new stuff is written?

Some functionality is not available, particularly in reporting, ie the summaries and data are left on screen to view rather than enabled as formal reports (to pdf or paper) but, in the long run, that's probably more of a left over from the past, ie my clients don't necessarily need it.


Hybrid solution works for me

jlh107 | | Permalink

As the owner of a small local practice, I have considered the 'cloud debate' from most angles. The solution that works for me is the Hybrid Solution of having a feature-rich desktop type environment hosted in the cloud.  Basically, my whole computer power and hardware now resides in the cloud.

On this cloud based network, I can install all the great feature rich software like Sage and Digita, but don't have to worry about backups, maintenance of my data.  All this is professionally managed and run.  I can also access my entire computer from anywhere.

My hosting company is Hosted Desktop UK (www.hosteddesktopuk.co.uk), and they also take care of all the software updates as part of the service.   They work well for me.

I find the web-portal type applications to be of limited use to me.  They tend to do the basics well, but don't cover the fiddly bits that take me ages to sort out.

Hybrid Approach - an opportunity to test the cloud

mccarthy | | Permalink

I established a small practice about 8 years ago.  Having worked in industry, my goal was to provide my clients with regular management information  in addition to carrying out compliance work.  Over the years i've used VT Transaction and Sage 50.  These systems are great for reliable processing of transactions but I found them lacking in terms of reporting.

I worked closely with a start-up Business Intelligence software company (client of mine) and together we created a web based reporting and analysis add-on for Sage 50.  In other words, I continued to enter data in Sage as normal but had the ability to create charts and more detailed reports.  I thought it would be useful to bring data together on one report from a number of sources e.g. departmental budgets from Excel and the wages breakdown from Micropay.  

By eliminating the time I used to spend copying/pasting and filtering within Excel, I was able to close monthly and quarterly reports much faster.  At this point my web based reports were running directly from my laptop, i.e. it was a "four walls" solution.  I still had to either email or post reports to clients unless I was presenting the reports in person. 

Earlier this year I selected 2 progressive business owners who wanted ready access to their historical data in order to compare their product sales, margins and wage elements to prior years.  I was able to give them access to my management pack via the web.  They can now run a variety of reports for their business.  I can also remotely add report templates and documents they require.  Instead of emailing them final reports, I notify them when I have completed entering their monthly transactions.

Web tools have the potential to extend the capabilities of the 'old reliable' systems.  Web fetching (eg. automatically acquiring raw material prices or online bank transactions) also saves time.  Cloud type apps aren't limited to financials.  Another client who operates from 3 premises is using the system to bring data from their inventory and production systems together.  The head office now has remote access to the latest data entered on each of these systems.  Their data is backed up to their hosting account. 


I haven't examined full online accounting services in great detail.  There appears to be some variation among the current offerings but from reading forums I get the following broad impression:

  • 1. Certain types and sizes of business lend themselves more easily to online services eg. low volume of transactions.
  • 2. The speed and accuracy of data entry (and editing) will depend on available bandwidth and the option to post batches of transactions.
  • 3.  Some offerings with simplistic user interfaces (fewer data entry fields) may result in poor quality management reports.
  • 4.   The ability to backup data and merge online bank transactions is useful but what about prior year data and data from other sources?

Online accounting services will continue to evolve.  The information needs (timeliness and level of detail etc.) of each business will help determine the suitability of the systems to be used.  I expect plenty of new entrants, price competition and consolidation within this sector over the next few years.  That may simplify the purchasing decision! 







Vendors need to talk Plain English

michaeltrigg | | Permalink

Sorry David, I am lost on some of what you are talking about.  "Thin client" is something I would aspire to be as I know I am overweight!  What is "platform agnostic"?

I think I may be answering some of your query in that, as a practice of accountants, we cannot consider moving away from our in-house network system because of the unreliability of the internet.  Recently we have xpereinced a number of occasions when we have had an interruption in our internet supply, sometimes extending to more than a day.  This does not arise because of the quality of our internet provider, but is a result of the infrastucture which they have to use.  This includes Mobile Internet as well as Wired Internet.

An interruption in the internet service if one is 'cloud based' would be a severe problem.

mkcdavies's picture

Reliability of internet connections?

mkcdavies | | Permalink

@Michael - it seems unusual that both landline and mobile internet would fail at the same time unless there is a general failure of the internet?  Are you in a non-urban location?

I know a number of BT broadband customers had some problems because of a serious equipment failure at one of the BT internet hubs (in the London area, I think) which led to many customers having no internet connection for a few hours.  But for people located in towns and cities the internet seems as reliable as electricity.  Our whole business is based on the web and it hasn't caused a single problem that I can remember, even the service we receive at home is completely reliable.  I've had a few problems with our wifi but that's nothing to do with the internet connection.

Nearly all e-mail is transported via the internet and the reliability of the internet is something that most take for granted these days.  All kinds of data is transported over the internet.  Businesses and governments would grind to a halt without it.

Which makes me wonder if the silent majority are happy and we tend to only hear the anecdotes of the few that have experienced problems with their internet connection?  Could AccountingWEB conduct a survey into this amongst it's members?

Internet reliability

michaeltrigg | | Permalink

I would not class our location as non-urban.

Last December we had a complete break down of our internet provision for a whole day.  We frequently suffer mini breaks throughout virtually every day.  The mini breaks do not normally cause more than an observed slow-down in internet use.  Where it does cause a more significant problem is with our VOIP system, as even mini-breaks break the telephone connection.  This can happen a number of times a day.

anthonymellor's picture

we use a GSM connection as a backup

anthonymellor | | Permalink

via a Zyxel 2WG (router plus pc card with sim card in it as second Wan connection) , so it fails over to what amounts to a mobile phone connection. Has limits of course, but keeps us connected.  Anthony

cverrier's picture


cverrier | | Permalink


I'd speak to your IT provider - there's no reason why you should tolerate 'mini breaks' in your connectivity like that - there's something wrong somewhere. 

It's possible this is a problem with your internal systems, rather than the internet connection - particularly if the symptoms are a 'slow down' in internet but loss of VOIP.    That sounds a bit odd.

If your IT provider can't solve it or doesn't think there's a problem  - you need a new IT provider.  The days when you have to just accept mystery IT issues and struggle on are over - the technology is mature, and problems can be solved.


daveforbes's picture

"Mini breaks"

daveforbes | | Permalink

It sounds like you are not losing your internet connection completely, just the available bandwidth is dropping to a level where your internet is going slow and is too slow for practical VOIP usage. VOIP is afterall quite bandwidth demanding.

If you are on ADSL there will be a contention ratio typically of 20:1 for "business packages" and 50:1 for "home packages". In other words bandwidth is shared between you and other customers of the ISP. With the increased usage high bandwidth technologies such as VOIP and television over IP the behaviours of others who are contending bandwith on your ADSL will cause peaks and troughs.

The other thing with ADSL, is that the bandwidth upstream and downstream are different by an order of magnitude, which will affect VOIP which is essentially symmetric (unless you do a lot more listening than talking !).

anthonymellor's picture

spot on, the above, beat me too it. Also consider what codec(s)

anthonymellor | | Permalink

are in use by your voip setup, these compress the data and depending on which one(s) are in use can make a big difference. I can't really say more as that is as much as I know about codecs. A diferent codec may be capable of coping with the contention caused reduced bandwidth.

Hmm, is electricity supply that consistent

michaeltrigg | | Permalink

Thanks for comments.  VOIP is on a different broadband provider from internet. Yes we have two broadbands.

Mobile braodband would not be an option to run a network of users.

we frequently suffer electricity cuts, when we do not know if we have internet breqaks, because we cannot run our comp...............

daveforbes's picture

Unreliable electricity

daveforbes | | Permalink

Gone a bit off topic but you should try some big Belkin 1200VA UPS (we have some bigger ones they don't seem to make anymore) and Honda generator such as the em65is.

anthonymellor's picture

and another echo (must type faster): we run

anthonymellor | | Permalink

battery backups, but in our case it is to smooth out the supply which has in the past killed too many hard disks, as I understand it, it is the voltage drops that are worse even than the spike, for hard disks.

our location is remote rural. Generators do sound like a good idea.

GSM connection will run voip, I did that (so just one connection) for three months over the Summer while travelling - how many connections certainly a very moot point. Again codecs become the topic.



'FIT Client'

mhakhtar | | Permalink

We have all heard about 'thin' client and 'fat client' in this group.

Has anyone come across a 'Fit client' terminology based on RIA (Rich internet application). I understand that applications using RIA run faster than traditional browser based applications using intranet rather than internet ideal for accountants and their clients.

FIT Client

NewACA | | Permalink

Perhaps Fit Client could mean "Fit for purpose" Client.   Are you using "thin" client, when you should be using "fat", or visa versa. Different set ups of firms demand different solutions.

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