Cloud-based vs Web-based Applications: A Comparison of Features & Key Aspects

What is the difference between cloud-based and web-based apps?
The difference between cloud-based and web-based apps is that all cloud apps are web-based, but the same cannot be said for all web apps. Specifically, cloud apps utilize multiple data centers while web apps use a single location; cloud apps have synchronized versions for all users, while web apps treat each version as unique to a user, among others.

If you use these two terms interchangeably, it may be correct but not entirely. Yes, they are very much the same in several aspects, which is why many people tend to see them as the same thing. However, they have many key differences—at times subtle but in other instances pronounced—and this can affect your choice of apps.

Below, we have spelled out the critical differences between cloud apps and web apps, which will help you deduce the answer to our question above. Take note; there will be situations where a web app may be more suitable for your needs, that’s why you need to read the differences below and put them into the context of your requirement.

cloud-based vs web-based

What are Cloud-based & Web-based apps?

Simply put, web-based applications are designed to run on a web browser. Web applications are created through the integration of calligraphy (from a user) like Java and Adobe Flash and script (from a server). The web browser relies on the elements of the webserver installed in the device to allow the online web services to function. As long as there’s an internet connection, you can use any web-based app from anywhere at any time.

On the other hand, cloud-based apps are the more advanced forms of web-based apps. Because they came from web-based apps, they need to become web applications first, develop, and mature, before becoming cloud-based apps. Although these two apps rely on internet browsers to run, cloud-based apps are not totally reliant upon web browsers to function, like multi-tenant ones. Being the “evolved” web apps, cloud-based apps commonly have advanced features like access to a more extensive array of services like application development solutions, storage, and on-demand computing cycle. Aside from allowing data storage in a cloud, users can also locally cache data, meaning they can store data entirely offline.

Cloud-Based Apps vs. Web-Based Apps: Head-to-Head Comparison

Comparing web-based apps and cloud-based apps is both easy and hard. It is easy because they both share many things in common. It is hard because these shared things have subtle differences. Take a look: 

Knowing the similarity and distinctions between these two types of apps actually has important and practical uses. One important use is that because, until now, there are still some customers and even app vendors themselves who wrongly consider that since their apps run on the web, they’re already qualified to be called as cloud-based apps. Any web-based app has the inherent structure and capacity to evolve into a cloud app. Still, as long as they don’t have the rich features and customization provided by cloud-based apps (as shown in the infographic), they should be treated as web-based apps.

Moreover, unlike web-based apps, cloud apps can run completely or partially offline, which make them functional for platforms that need plenty of calculations, or which require to run steadily in environments with poor internet connections. Although there are still significantly more web-based apps for collaboration work, cloud-based apps are becoming the preferred tools for collaboration-intensive processes. Nevertheless, because web-based apps work efficiently when internet connectivity is reliable, they will likely remain as the app of choice for transaction platforms like booking services, information-sharing portals, bulletin boards, and ecommerce websites.

Finally, maybe the best way to appreciate the differences between these two types of apps is by simply checking the very apps that we use regularly. The most common web-based apps are websites that need a reliable internet connection, or else they will not function. Popular websites like YouTube, Facebook, and Wikipedia are perfect examples. On the other hand, cloud-based apps still function even when offline and when the internet connection is restored, sync in the background. Slack, Dropbox, and Evernote are some of the in-demand cloud apps.

Overall, cloud apps are more robust, scalable, and flexible. But it doesn’t mean they are the right apps for all your needs. As a rule, web apps may be more suitable for simpler tasks like survey software for small business, while cloud apps tend to tackle more complex processes like enterprise accounting solutions.

Chart context menu
View in full screen
Print chart

Download PNG image
Download JPEG image
Download CSV
Download XLS
View data table

Adoption Rate of Applications Fully Run in Public Cloud

Adoption Rate of Applications Fully Run in Public Cloud
Website: 55


Adoption Rate of Applications Fully Run in Public Cloud
Email: 54


Adoption Rate of Applications Fully Run in Public Cloud
Communications: 26


Adoption Rate of Applications Fully Run in Public Cloud
Mobile services: 23

Mobile services

Adoption Rate of Applications Fully Run in Public Cloud
CRM: 21


Adoption Rate of Applications Fully Run in Public Cloud
Productivity apps: 16

Productivity apps

Adoption Rate of Applications Fully Run in Public Cloud
ERP: 16


Adoption Rate of Applications Fully Run in Public Cloud
Data analytics: 14

Data analytics

Adoption Rate of Applications Fully Run in Public Cloud
Document management: 11

Document management

Adoption Rate of Applications Fully Run in Public Cloud
Database server: 11

Database server

Adoption Rate of Applications Fully Run in Public Cloud
Custom-developed software: 10

Custom-developed software

Adoption Rate of Applications Fully Run in Public Cloud
Backup/DR: 8


Adoption Rate of Applications Fully Run in Public Cloud
Virtual desktop: 7

Virtual desktop

Adoption Rate of Applications Fully Run in Public Cloud
Identity management: 5

Identity management


Source: SpiceWorks

Designed by

A brief look into the markets for web-based and cloud-based apps

Total revenues for both web and cloud apps market are expected to be sustained from 2016 to 2021, which hovers around 320 billion. However, revenues from web-based apps are predicted to decrease from $200+ million to less than $200 million by 2021. In contrast, cloud spending is expected to continue increasing in the coming years and will reach $159 billion in 2021. 

More specifically, the average spend on SaaS applications per company had steadily risen year-over-year since 2010. The question is: why are businesses using fewer web apps and more cloud apps?

Major Types, Features & Examples

The massive enterprise technology market of web-based apps is already in a momentous shift to cloud computing. Here are their main classifications, functionalities, and top vendors today:

Web Apps

1. Static web apps

As mentioned above, this type of web app is not flexible and is typically created using CSS and HTML. It only displays very few contents, but can also hold animated objects like GIFs, banners, videos, etc. It is also difficult to change the contents of static web apps because you first need to download the HTML code, modify it, and then upload it back to the server, which can only be done by site webmasters or the provider. Examples of static web apps include digital curriculums and professional portfolios.

example of a detailed static web page design

A static website need not be unattractive, as this example shows.

2. Dynamic web apps

The more complex type, dynamic web apps are client-server solutions that run on web browsers. Unlike a static web app, a dynamic web-based app shows diverse content every time it is accessed. The most common languages used for these web apps are ASP and PHP since these allow users to structure and modify the content, including text, images, and videos. A content management system is commonly used for creating and modifying a web app’s content, which CMS administrators can access. Popular web-based app examples include Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Amazon.

3. Portal web app

This refers to web-based apps where users can access and use the categories or sections of a home page. These are the same as dynamic web apps and include web browsers, email, chats, forums, etc.

4. Web apps with CMS

These are those with continuously updated content. Same as dynamic web apps, a CMS administrator is the one authorized to implement updates and changes and updates. The best examples of web CMS apps are WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal, which are common for making business and personal blogs, news pages, etc.

5. E-commerce or online store

A more complicated dynamic web browser that requires electronic payment modalities like PayPal and credit cards and must have the capability to support online shopping like online product displays, shopping carts, etc. Nowadays, an ecommerce app must be optimized for both desktop and mobile browsing to achieve the best results. Top examples include Shopify, 3dcart, Volution, and Bigcommerce.

Shopify ecommerce site

A Shopify website sports all the modern ecommerce conveniences that people fall for.

6. Animated web apps

These primarily feature animation technology like FLASH and JavaScript and other more innovative designs. These are mostly used by creative agencies and freelancers to better present their creativity. Developers mostly use CSS animations and transitions, WebGL, or JavaScript for creating animated web pages.

Cloud Apps

1. Software as a Service (SaaS)

This is the most popular cloud-based app, where users get to use cloud-based apps as full-functioning applications, provided as technology products/services by technology vendors. SaaS apps are designed primarily to target SMBs, large enterprises, and freelance services providers. SaaS payment models include free, pay-for-use, subscription, and based on quote. CRM, ERP, help desk, HR, business intelligence, and accounting applications are among the major types of SaaS. Some of the leading SaaS examples include HubSpot CRM, Wrike, Freshsales, Sisense, and Wix.

Saas example, HubSpot CRM

One prime example of a SaaS app, HubSpot CRM, constantly counts among the most popular apps in its category.

2. Platform as a Service (PaaS)

This advanced type of cloud computing provides the infrastructure, solutions, and computing platforms upon which users can build their own solutions. PaaS apps are used mainly by businesses that engage in the development, testing, collaboration, and deployment of cloud solutions for specific applications. A PaaS typically has a completely configured sandbox and deployment environment that include an operating system, programming languages, run-time system libraries, and a graphic UI. Examples of PaaS cloud-based apps include Microsoft Azure, Google App Engine, and Rackspace Cloud Sites.

3. Recovery as a Service (RaaS)

Businesses use these cloud-based solutions for recovering data, files, databases, servers, and entire data centers. RaaS offers integrated solutions to switch from existing solutions for their business continuity, disaster recovery, archiving, and backup requirements. Also called as DRaaS (Disaster Recovery as a Service), these cloud apps function to minimize downtime effects. Popular RaaS include nScaled, WindStream Business, and Geminare.

4. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

These are the totally-outsourced cloud-based computing infrastructure service. Provided through a virtualized interface, business clients will receive a pre-configured and built-in software or hardware, and it is entirely to them how they will use these cloud services. Offered either as development environments or managed hosting, some of the leading IaaS apps include IBM Cloud, Amazon WorkSpaces, and Google Cloud.

Amazon Workspaces

If your business relies on Amazon, then Amazon Workspaces should figure in your business investment.

The Future is Cloud

The future of IT—and how businesses use and benefit from technology—lies in the cloud. Although web-based apps still dominate the market as of today, the surging number of businesses embracing cloud technology clearly indicates that more and more companies are becoming aware of the serious advantages that cloud-based apps and cloud innovations as a whole offer.

Still, because web-based technology is likely to remain dominant in the coming years, businesses deploying web-based apps must ensure that their corporate websites, including other related sites like landing pages and business blogs, are optimized and responsive to ensure that their technology spending is maximized. They’ll do well to recognize that cloud adoption is important to small businesses and, in fact, to businesses of any size. 

Having an optimized website does not only ensure that web-based apps run smoothly but also helps in providing your customers with a positive user experience, which easily translates to actual sales and even facilitates repeat purchase and customer loyalty. There are many web-based apps that will most likely be more than enough to address some of your operational needs. In case you’re now looking for a cloud-based app for your business, such as to help you in your management tasks or to help your team improve revenues using cloud sales apps, it’s good practice to get a free trial first.

Lastly, if you’re a small business and interested in investing in cloud software, you can start by understanding the variety of options available to you. Check our ultimate SaaS guide for small businesses here.

Allan Jay

By Allan Jay

Allan Jay is FinancesOnline’s resident B2B expert with over a decade of experience in the SaaS space. He has worked with vendors primarily as a consultant in the UX analysis and design stages, lending to his reviews a strong user-centric angle. A management professional by training, he adds the business perspective to software development. He likes validating a product against workflows and business goals, two metrics, he believes, by which software is ultimately measured.

John says:

Can you, or anyone recommend a inexpensive or free cloudbased database program for a church?

Thank you in advance!

Reply to this comment »

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.


Why is FinancesOnline free? Why is FinancesOnline free?

FinancesOnline is available for free for all business professionals interested in an efficient way to find top-notch SaaS solutions. We are able to keep our service free of charge thanks to cooperation with some of the vendors, who are willing to pay us for traffic and sales opportunities provided by our website. Please note, that FinancesOnline lists all vendors, we’re not limited only to the ones that pay us, and all software providers have an equal opportunity to get featured in our rankings and comparisons, win awards, gather user reviews, all in our effort to give you reliable advice that will enable you to make well-informed purchase decisions.