Why Selenium Might Not Be a Good Choice for Automating Desktop Applications

Owen Savage

Automation Expert

Selenium is often considered an obvious choice for automation, but in trying to leverage it for desktop applications many testers find themselves stuck building custom solutions to work around limitations. But what are the options? We’ll try to find some answers in this short article.


Desktop Automation


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What is desktop automation? 

Automating desktop applications with Selenium

Using Winium to automate desktop applications

Using a code-free visual approach to automate desktop apps


The transition to web-based applications from desktop promises an increase in agility and simplicity. 

However, such a migration from legacy to web-based systems is a massive challenge for developers and requires a lot of resources – not to mention the dubious ROI…

Read more: Why No-Code Test Automation Has the Best ROI

Moving from desktop to web also poses security challenges as data is moved off premise. In light of this, you wouldn’t blame businesses for asking why they should make the change if things are stable as they are. 

Therefore, despite the increasing presence of web and mobile apps, enterprises continue to rely on desktop applications and use them to run some of their most important business processes. 

That means you’re likely to find yourself in a position where you need to automate the testing of those desktop applications to ensure business continuity in your enterprise. 

Read more: What is Enterprise Application Testing?

The solution that may spring to mind is using Selenium. However, Selenium is designed to test web applications so you might face some serious limitations when trying to leverage it for desktop automation. 

What is desktop automation?

Desktop automation is the process of automating tasks and processes on a desktop computer. Clicking buttons, filling out forms, and performing repetitive tasks are all things that can be automated. 

Making sure these tasks and processes are automated means that businesses can reduce errors and save time, having employees spend their hours on more complex activities that add value.

Desktop automations typically focus on the following applications: the GUI, the usability, the integrations with other applications, and the compatibility of the application. By automating you ensure that these applications are functioning as they should be by optimizing and streamlining the testing process. 

There are 3 common ways in which desktop applications can be automated:

  • Performing automated actions or transactions in and across applications – desktop robotic processes automation (RPA) 
  • Testing transactions performed between applications – desktop end-to-end test automation 
  • Testing components within the application – desktop test automation 

All of these types of automation is done by using specialized software tools or frameworks to simulate human interactions with a desktop application. They can be used to perform multiple activities, from data entry to report generation and data extraction. 

For more of a deep dive: What is Desktop Automation? 

Automating desktop applications with Selenium

Selenium is an open-source tool used to test web applications. It has a massive user community and a diverse testing tool suite. 

Read more: Can Selenium be Used for Desktop Applications?

However, Selenium isn’t built for testing desktop applications. Invented in 2004 in the context of the monotony and inefficiency of manual testing, it was primarily designed for testing web applications. 

Despite having support for testing desktop applications, Selenium comes up short in terms of offering the same level of functionality and flexibility as tools designed specifically for desktop automation. 

In addition, trying to automate desktop applications with Selenium comes with technological limitations: that’s because desktop applications often use technologies that aren’t well-supported by Selenium (like Java, .NET or native Windows applications). That means it’s harder to automate certain parts of an application, or that you’ll require additional tools to work around such limitations. 

Also, since many desktop applications require privileged access to underlying operating systems or hardware, running automated tests can pose security risks. Selenium is not compliant in all scenarios and special security measures are often required as a result. Otherwise tests can compromise the security of a system. 

Finally, because there are often frequent changes in an application’s user interface and functionality, maintaining automated tests could prove tricky with Selenium. Different versions of desktop applications may also require different test scripts, and on top of that, user functionalities like reporting and data-driven testing are only possible with the integration of additional tools. 

In other words, Selenium isn’t an all-in-one platform and testing desktop applications at scale will prove difficult. Of course, it is still possible to test desktop applications with Selenium by leveraging its automation capabilities and building custom solutions to work around limitations. However, it is important to carefully consider the benefits and drawbacks of using Selenium compared to other specialized tools. For true scale most businesses end up needing an all-in-one platform designed for desktop automation. 


Using Winium to automate desktop applications 

While looking to automate desktop applications, you may also have come across Winium. It’s an open-source automation framework for Windows platforms and it’s based on Selenium. But much like Selenium, Winium has some serious flaws when it comes to automating desktop applications

Firstly, Winium Desktop Driver implements Selenium Remote WebDriver and uses JsonWireProtocol commands to automate the apps under test. This means Winium is primarily designed to work with Windows desktop applications. Therefore it may not offer the same level of functionality and flexibility as other tools that are specifically designed for desktop automation 

While it supports most of the languages supported by Selenium – that’s Java, Python, JavaScript, C#, Ruby, Pearl, PHP, and Objective-C,NET, Java, or native Windows are not well supported by Winium. This can make it difficult to automate certain parts of the application or require additional tools and libraries to work around these limitations. Also, as prerequisites to use Winium, you’ll need an IDE to write code, and therefore resource heavy for writing code and project management. 

Although it’s pretty simple and easy-to-use, provided you’re already familiar with using Selenium…, if you’re not, getting it to function is going to be difficult especially as it has limited documentation making it more difficult for testers to get started and find common solutions.

Finally, Winium hasn’t been actively maintained since 2016, so testers will be forced to add improvements and fix bugs on their own, therefore it is also more challenging to find support compared to more widely used automation tools. Due to not being actively maintained Winium can also be unstable at times which leads to unexpected errors or crashes during test execution. 

Using a code-free visual approach to automate desktop apps 

You might ask, what is then the alternative to Selenium and Winium? As existing tools on the market for automating desktop tests tend to  be complex, limited and involve programming skills, the key is identifying a desktop automation method that avoids unnecessary complexity. 

We recommend considering code-free visual testing tools such as Leapwork, which is  both more efficient and versatile. They enable testers to create and execute complex code quickly and easily, while they work with a wide variety of desktop applications, including common desktop technologies like .NET and Java. 

Visual testing platforms also require fewer resources and less technical expertise to implement and maintain. Simply put, it will take a business user a couple of minutes to automate in Leapwork, and entire enterprise teams will learn, build and maintain automation in just 30 days. This allows QA teams to reduce time and effort while also being cost-effective

Finally, they’re more flexible – you can test more and in more ways, like end-to-end testing, UI testing, and integration testing. You needn’t worry about complexity across drivers, platforms and GUIs. Whatever application or driver is being used, the way you interface with the application does not change. 



To get a better impression of what this can mean to your organization, just take a look at the results achieved by Voogd & Voogd, an insurance software provider that needed an automation tool capable of desktop automation. They have been able to reduce 8 hours of test execution to simply 20 minutes by building automation flows for looking up, editing, and maintaining insurance policies in a desktop application using Leapwork. 

If you want to find out more about this topic and how you can find the right testing tool for your automation needs, you can download it below. 


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