What’s the Right Platform for your Web App?

Developers almost always try to steer you to the platform they’re most familiar with, but is it the right one for your project? Arming yourself with a bit of knowledge in advance could save you thousands of dollars by making the right choice yourself.

First off, are we really talking about a web app or just a web site with a bit of extra functionality? Chances are, the world’s most popular CMS (Content Management System), WordPress, will be more than enough for any web site. WordPress itself is free and there’s lots of free and freemium plugins (you only pay for extra features) that will likely do the job. If what you want to accomplish isn’t provided by existing plugins, then a skilled programmer could easily create a custom one for you, although this could be an investment of at least a few hundred dollars, if not a few thousand, depending on the functionality required.

WordPress, or any other CMS for that matter, does have its limitations. Virtually all of them were designed for blogs therefore if your application is anything but, using a CMS may not be the best starting point. Perhaps a cat can be made to bark, but a pooch will do a more convincing job! A framework is usually your best option when a more custom application is required. A framework is an out of the box application with the basics built in, letting programmers concentrate on the business logic, or the custom functionality if you will. The most popular frameworks are extendible with open source “packages” just like CMS’s are with plugins, but the similarities end there. A framework doesn’t usually come with a built-in admin panel nor templates (“themes”) so these have to be built from scratch although there are a multitude of free and not free CSS/HTML templates that can be easily adapted for any framework.

Frameworks are built around a single single programming language. PHP has many actively maintained ones: Laravel, CakePHP, and Yii, just to name the more popular. Ruby programmers almost always use Ruby on Rails. Java coders are more likely to use Spring. Microsoft programmers will likely use .NET which can support any or all of the MS programming languages, such as C# (C Sharp) & ASP .NET. Which you should choose to go with depends on your budget and your objectives. A Java and .NET based app will cost infinitely more to develop since the development process is longer and skilled programmers in either bill top dollar whereas Ruby on Rails and PHP framework programmers are at the other end of the spectrum.

Another consideration is the cost of hosting. A .NET app will require more expensive Windows-based hosting (Azure being the top choice), whereas all the others can be hosted on Linux servers. Linux is a free operating system and is by far the most widely used server O/S. If what you’re looking at building is an enterprise application targeted at big businesses, then costs be damned, the usual choice is .NET, which is what the “big guys” expect.

I haven’t even alluded to other frameworks that are growing in popularity among programmers, but aren’t in as much demand on the customer side: Namely Django (Python-based), and Node JS (JavaScript). For most web development firms, maintaining a team for those platforms likely does not pay. Most firms will stick to WordPress, Laravel and .NET, leaving much of the rest to freelancers, which from a customer point of view, can be a minefield if you don’t know how to tell a good from a bad programmer (I’ll cover that minefield in a subsequent article!)

The availability of skilled programmers, whether in firms or freelance, is another big consideration in making your choice of platforms. If for some reason your project was orphaned, that is, abandoned by the developer(s), how hard will it be to find a replacement? If it’s PHP-based, likely not difficult. Java and .NET a bit harder, and surprise, skilled Ruby on Rails programmers are the hardest to find. I emphasize skilled.

Choosing the right platform for your web based application is critical. Don’t let the developers push you into the one they specialize in. Your best interests, not theirs, should prevail!

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Tom Germain

Tom is CTO at WebProHire.com, web and mobile developers based in London, Canada. His experience in the business covers 3 decades and his topics run the gamut