Online Versus Desktop Computing

January 2, 2009

in online computing

by David Hakala

“Desktop” computing means that your applications and data reside on the computer sitting on your desktop. “Online” computing means they reside somewhere else: on a server you can reach via a local area network, a private wide area network, or the public Internet.

The important thing is that you are connected to the resources you need. It doesn’t matter whether those resources are north or south of your physical location; nearby or far away; or what make and model of machine they reside on. So diagrams of online computing connections can be very vague, often just a “cloud” of resources.

Benefits of Online Computing

You don’t need an expensive high-powered, high-capacity computer when most or all of your applications and data reside elsewhere. In extreme cases, all you need is a keyboard, mouse, display screen, and a tiny bit of processor and RAM to issue requests to online resources and display the results. You don’t even need a hard disk to store applications and data.

Online resources can be much more powerful and sophisticated than anything you can afford or fit on your desktop. A $100 thin client the size of a medium pizza box can access a multi-million dollar, room-sized supercomputer with terabytes of storage space.

Your data is more secure online than it is on your desktop. Online data storage facilities are hardened against natural and manmade threats, often guarded by people with guns.

You don’t have to bother with application updates and operating system patches. The online resource managers keep the resources you use up to date.

Drawbacks of Online Computing

If your connection is severed, you are “offline” and out of the computing game. You can’t open your word processor document, let alone edit it. It’s like a total power failure.

If your connection is slow, online computing can be an excruciating experience.

Your confidential data is vulnerable to interception while en route between your desktop and the online resources. Encrypted connections protect data in transit, but hackers are always howling at the doors.

Google Apps ( is one example of online productivity resources. Instead of buying Microsoft Office, you can use Google’s word processor, spreadsheet, calendar, e-mail client, and other Office-like applications for free. Give it a try to see how you like “cloud” computing.

David Hakala has written technology tutorials since 1988, in addition to tech journalism, profitable content, documentation, and marketing collateral. See his LinkedIn profile for details and contact info: