The internet is a wonderful network. Despite being built on nothing but aging hardware and infrastructure not designed to withstand the use we are now putting it through, the advantages of it as a platform far outweigh the cons. It’s (mostly) global, so your information can reach the largest audience imaginable. It’s built of semantic building blocks designed for computers to understand, so building assistive technology to expand that audience even further to visually impaired or compromised people is entirely possible, and the vast majority of that technology is compatible with most major web browsers. The languages we use to build the content are all relatively high-level and surprisingly resilient, able to handle broken code that would refuse to even compile into an executable on lower-level languages. And finally, and this is a relatively recent development, as all of the browser vendors continue to move towards a solid agreement on how the web should be rendered, the content available on it can be a quality experience regardless of the platform your users use to access it.
Or to reduce that idea to its core principles, largest possible audience, potentially lowest development cost. Companies have long seen those two principles together and wondered why we couldn’t mix the beauty of the web with more traditional desktop software. Why couldn’t you do your spreadsheets and image editing online, where you could access your work from any web-accessible device, and get the same productivity anywhere? It’s an appealing idea, and it’s been hounding us for more than 20 years now.
1990 – 2008
This was a good state for security, but it put a bit of a hamper on the dream of sprawling web apps replacing traditional desktop software, so a number of methods were implemented. In 1996, Macromedia introduced Flash. Its original intention was to play back vectored animations, which could deliver high-quality animations with comparably small file sizes, and also came with its own scripting language. Since Flash was its own application that ran outside of, but integrated with, your browser, it had access to your computer; and depending on what your settings were, it could allow web pages to run the gamut of that access. This meant it was easier to do things like draw a vectored image online, and then save the result to your computer; however, it also meant that an unscrupulous developer could do things like, drop and run malicious software directly onto your computer—all without your input.
2009 – 2019
While these are large downsides, a number of well-known commercial applications have been developed on or ported to Electron because of the popularity and benefits. From code editors like Atom and Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code, to long-lived projects like Skype, to new applications like Discord and others.