Building Desktop Applications using Web Technologies
with Electron

Jason Ronallo
Head, Digital Library Initiatives
NCSU Libraries

Hi. I'm Jason Ronallo, Head of Digital Library Initiatives at NCSU Libraries. And I'll be talking about building desktop applications.

No Skipping Ahead, Please!


Why build desktop applications anyways?

Why in the world would anyone build a desktop application these days. Everything is now on the Web now, right? A brief inaccurate history of the relationship between desktop applications and the web...


OK. Quick survey to make sure I know my audience well enough.

Who here has some role in creating Web applications?

Raise your hand!

Who here has some role in creating desktop applications?

Raise your hand!

The Web Has Won!

(well, except on mobile)

Lots of complex applications that were once developed for the desktop have now gone to the browser.



Too Many Tabs

We've traded too many windows for too many tabs.

Tab Management Tools

Things are so bad with tabs that there's a whole class of plugins and extensions and "top 5 ways" lists to help you manage tab overload.


You can use bookmarks to organize things, but I basically use Pinboard to close tabs and forget about them so I don't feel guilty about all the unread tabs I have open and still feel like I have good intentions of getting back to them.

Tab Bankruptcy

And then sometimes I just declare tab bankruptcy and hope I didn't close anything really important.

Just Open a New Window, Right?

So to find things you just open up a new window right? Who has had so many browser windows open that they can't find the window that contains the tab that you know you've opened up? Or is playing audio?

Then It Will Be Easier to Find

And now I have 5 windows with N tabs all with the same pages in there somewhere.

Why Desktop Applications?

So why desktop applications again?

Stand Out

You might want to develop a desktop application if you want to stand out from all the tabs and browser windows. If you want to integrate with the desktop and stay in the task bar to make it easy to find.


Sometimes you just want an application to let you have focus on one thing. You can see why companies would want to develop desktop applications. You can understand why a library might want staff at the desk for instance to be able to quickly focus.

it is really hard to focus when that Gmail tab is there beconing you.

Why Not Desktop Applications?

So why don't we build more desktop applications?

GUI Toolkits and
Different Skillsets

Any time I've considered building a desktop application I've always been thwarted by difficult to use and ugly GUI toolkits.

You Already Know
How to Create a GUI

But if you know how to make web pages with HTML and CSS you already know how to make a user interface.

Creating Desktop Apps
with Web Technologies

It is now possible to create desktop apps with Web technologies.

Platforms for Building Desktop Apps with Web Technologies

There are a couple platforms for doing this. I'll be talking about Electron.

What Can You Build with Electron?

What can you make with Electron. I'd like to show you some interesting use cases for creating desktop applications that might also apply to libraries.

Companies that Use Electron

Lots of companies and open source projects are beginning to use Electron. As I was developing these slides and going back to the home page they just kept adding more and more companies to this list. There's a growing list of open source applications as well.

Chat & Communications


Rocket Chat
Rocket Chat

N1 (email client)
N1 (email client)
Lots of applications like Slack and Discord for chat and real-time communications.

Collaborative Tools