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May 3, 2022

Frontend: Which UI technology for your software project?

Whether it is a new development, GUI optimization or migration project, one of the first questions that emerges is: which UI technology is right for your frontend? In addition to the classic UI frameworks of .NET and Qt, modern web technologies such as HTML5, JavaScript and CSS are becoming increasingly popular. But not only is the choice vast – so is the scope of the decision: Anyone who sets the wrong course now or focuses on the wrong trends runs the risk of failing. We will show you how to choose the right UI technology for your software project and which questions you should answer.

We have been helping companies make future-proof technology decisions for their frontend for years. And five years ago, we would have certainly written this article differently: We would have shown the advantages and disadvantages of each UI technology in different use cases and probably made statements like: Cross-platform applications use HTML5. Qt is suitable for embedded devices and .NET within a Microsoft infrastructure. But the distinction between the individual UI technologies is becoming increasingly blurred. We can develop with Xamarin in .NET cross-platform, use web technologies like HTML5 or JavaScript/CSS within .NET and compose web frontend with .NET backend. Meanwhile, (almost) every use case, every function and every design can be implemented with every UI technology.

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At first glance, this may simplify the decision. On the contrary: Instead of focusing on the individual UI technologies and the use cases, you should shed more light on the framework conditions in the project and company.

Reusing existing modules?

The first question you should clarify: Are there code components that have proven successful and that you want to adopt? This is especially useful for modules in which you have invested a lot of development time, company know-how and special knowledge. These can be complex calculations, for example, or special modules such as hardware drivers. Depending on this, you can narrow down the UI technologies that allow you to reuse existing ones. Or are you happy to start from scratch and free yourself from old baggage that has limited you so far? Then you are completely free in making your technology decision.

Technology know-how in the company

Finding good software engineers is not easy. It plays a big role which skills around UI frameworks are available in your company: Which frontend developers are available for your project? In which UI technologies do they have relevant experience? Is education and training in new technologies a personal development goal in your software team? What is the willingness and ability to quickly learn new UI frameworks? If your software developers find this rather difficult, it may be more effective to stick with the "old" technology – even if it is outdated. If you don't have your own frontend team, it is worth taking a look at your network: Do you have partners who can support you in specific UI technologies?

Time to market and performance

It is also crucial how quickly the first result should be available. If you have a fixed launch date, such as a trade show, you will choose a UI technology that involves less risk and training. Computing power is now so outstanding that performance aspects only play a minor role in your decision – unless it is for financial reasons. This is because more powerful hardware is expensive, especially for embedded devices. With large quantities, even small differences quickly become noticeable. Saving computing power thanks to the right technology decision usually pays off.

No fear of "wrong" decisions

As you can see: There is no such thing as "the right" decision. Today, you will find only a few cases where function X can be realized with UI Framework Y. Today, technology decisions are not always made rationally. Rather, it is about everyone involved having "a good gut feeling". Because even when it comes to technology: Software is not implemented by machines, but by people. But how do you reach a decision now?

Your path to the technology decision

The path to the right UI technology needs one thing above all: a lot of preparation. To answer the above questions, you need to analyze your resources and define the requirements. Exchange ideas with other software engineers on a professional level, or get external advice. (External) colleagues can show you the practical consequences of possible solutions. With their experience, they have aspects in mind that you might have overlooked or evaluated completely differently. Their recommendation will help you back up your decision and make the case to management.

This is how you choose the right UI technology for your frontend.

If you are unsure, subject important functions or critical questions to a feasibility analysis. To achieve this, you implement them in the desired target technology. Alternatively, perform feasibility analysis for two competing UI frameworks and then compare them with each other. This way, you are able to evaluate how quickly and easily you can realize functions with the chosen UI framework. You can identify stumbling blocks and pitfalls early and cost-effectively, and adjust your technology decisions as needed.

We would be happy to support you in making future-proof technology decisions. To this end, we offer comprehensive technology consulting that highlights all important dimensions.

The authors

Ruth Zimmermann is a Senior Software Engineer at User Interface Design GmbH (UID). In her role, she develops software architectures and graphical user interfaces, especially with WPF and C++/ Qt. The graduate media computer scientist not only has 10 years of development experience, but also intercultural competence due to various long-term stays abroad.

Whether inbound marketing, social media or event organization – Juliane Markotschi has over 15 years of experience in classic and digital communication. The specialist in German studies and communication scientist discovered her passion for topics from the world of UX at UID and has been taking it out to the world on the UID channels ever since.