FAQ, Popular

October 4, 2012

Dropbox and a hosted virtual desktop – are they the same?

When talking to people about a hosted virtual desktop and cloud storage, mainly Dropbox, we are often asked: “are they the same thing?”

Well, I’m here to explain the differences between the two and why they are definitely not the same thing although they are both cloud solutions.

Every day the term ‘cloud’ is growing in popularity and the technology is rapidly making its way into businesses for many reasons.

But with so many cloud solutions out there how can you be sure which is best for you and your business?


Dropbox is the most popular of the cloud storage solutions in the current market place. Dropbox in its essence is a file sharing site. It was set up in 2008 by Drew Houston. Houston had grown tired of transferring files from home and university using a USB stick which would often get lost or forgotten. Instead he created a system whereby he could access files using the internet.

Once users have signed up for an account they simply upload documents/pictures/videos/music into their own space ‘in the cloud’. Thanks to a variety of Dropbox apps these cloud spaces are accessible from any device.

There are five main drop box packages that are available:

  • The first is a free option that gives you 2GB of space harking back to the original USB plans.
  • The second will cost you $9.99 a month or $99 a year and provides 100 GB of storage
  • The third gives 200GB for $19.99 a month or $199.00 a year.
  • The fourth package will give you 500GB of storage for $49.99 a month or $499.00 a year.
  • They also offer an additional add-on called ‘Packrat’ which allows an unlimited undo history for $39.00/year. This means that if you overwrite a file (save on top of it), you can undo the changes right back to when the file was first created.

The newest addition to this list is a more corporate option for businesses.   Named ‘Dropbox team’, the package provides a minimum of 1TB of storage and employees can have their own sections within one cloud storage space.

Although there are a number of chargeable options available that provide large amounts of storage, nearly 96% of Dropbox users still opt for the free 2GB. In fact, Dropbox is still predominantly used by private individuals and small businesses with a handful of users.

Dropbox summary of features

  1. You can put your documents/pictures/videos/music in the cloud to be accessed from anywhere from your PC, Mac, Smartphone and Tablet.
  2. You can sync files between Dropbox and your device.  If you have a folder on your device (e.g. PC) and you put the same folder in your Dropbox, when you make changes to that folder on your PC, these changes will automatically be applied to the relative folder in Dropbox.
  3. You can share your Dropbox folder with other Dropbox users.
  4. Dropbox is only for storing files and does not store applications such as accounting solutions or their contents.

Dropbox advantages

  1. Files can be accessed from almost any device.
  2. Dropbox folders can be shared with other Dropbox users.
  3. Dropbox syncs files between the device and the Dropbox account in the cloud.

Dropbox disadvantages 

  1. Security weakness.  In June 2011, for four hours, users were able to log in without the correct password. Potentially able to access any account without a correct password. In July 2012, users of the forums had begun complaining about receiving a flood of spam in their e-mail. Some of them said the e-mail address impacted is one they have only used to create their Dropbox account.
  2. Dropbox is a public cloud system and is not private. Meaning that your files are stored in the same place as other Dropbox users’ files.  Since you’re not on a dedicated server, your data is at potential risk of being compromised.
  3. Although you can access your files from almost any device, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can edit or work on them – unless you have an application on that device that allows you to do it.  Example: On the iPad you have a Word document stored in Dropbox, you can view it, but unless you have paid for an Office suite for your iPad you can do no more than view it.
  4. If you work on more than one device, which most do, say your laptop and your tablet, then you need to be careful with version control.  Say you’ve synced your folder on your laptop with Dropbox but later you pick up work on your iPad, unless you’re on the internet, you may be working on an older version of that document.
  5. No back up of your data.

Hosted virtual desktop 

The overriding difference between a hosted virtual desktop and Dropbox is that with hosted virtual desktop it is not just your files that are in the cloud, it is your entire desktop. This means that your files, applications/programs and your desktop are in the cloud. If the term ‘desktop’, ‘hosted desktop’ and ‘virtual desktop’ means nothing to you, our MD Jo Radcliffe has written a brilliant explanation of what is a desktop, hosted desktop and virtual desktop.

A hosted virtual desktop gives you true universal access to your documents.  As the desktop is perfectly self contained you can access all of your files and edit them in the programmes they were create (unlike the restriction with Dropbox, see disadvantage point 3).

The hosted desktop can be accessed from any device, at any time and from anywhere. Providing you have an internet connection of course but good news for those ‘on the go’ because the hosted desktop runs perfectly over a 3G connection.

Imagine having your Windows 7 desktop on your iPad? Or even on your iPhone? Need to edit a Word document on your iPhone? Not a problem with the hosted virtual desktop.

Hosted desktop summary of features

  1. Access your files, programs/applications and full Windows 7 desktop from any device, at anytime and from anywhere. With a minimum of a 3G connection.
  2. Access to a shared storage with permission-based access. Meaning that you can have a company shared storage structure that is controlled by user permissions granted by the administrator.
  3. If your company already uses server based computing (pcs connected to a main server) then your setup, with the current file-sharing system, can be moved across exactly how it is.
  4. Your office is where ever you are because your office is in the cloud. No longer are you tied to a desk at the office.
  5. Your hosted desktop is in a private cloud in which your data does not sit where other businesses data sits also.
  6. Full daily back up of data.
  7. Only pay for what you use – no set tiers regarding storage. See hosted desktop pricing 

So what’s the difference?

I feel that this is the biggest difference between a Dropbox (cloud storage product) and a hosted desktop are the issues of data security and data protection.  Data protection:  With Dropbox you still have files saved locally on your device, so if your device was lost or stolen, unauthorized people could have access to this information.   Data security: until you’ve uploaded a document into Dropbox, if the device got damaged, lost or stolen then the document would be gone too.   With a hosted virtual desktop on the other hand, there is never any data locally, so neither of these risks apply.

There are plenty of other differences and here are just a few:

  1. With a hosted desktop there is no need to sync files between device and storage account because there is only one document, and that’s safe in the cloud. Meaning that version control is never an issue as it is with Dropbox (see Dropbox disadvantages point 4).
  2. With a hosted desktop there is an unlimited file undo history as standard, you do not have to pay extra for this like you would with Dropbox.
  3. Cloud storage just stores your files in the cloud where a hosted desktop is your whole computer in the cloud.
  4. Cloud storage is a public cloud that stores your data in the same place as other people’s data; a hosted desktop is a private cloud.
  5. A hosted desktop solution provides daily back ups.
  6. A hosted desktop allows you to use the Microsoft Office Suite from any device (without it being installed on the device).
  7. A non-Microsoft application e.g. Sage can be delivered alongside the desktop and accessed from any device too.
  8. A cloud storage solution just allows you to access files from almost any device but not actually work on and edit them, unless installed locally.
  9. A cloud storage solution gives you a set amount of storage space regardless of how much you actually use, you still have to pay for superfluous space.
  10. A hosted desktop allows you to take your office with you wherever you are – a cloud storage solution allows you to only take your files where ever you are.

I hope that this has given you a better understanding of the differences between a cloud storage solution and a hosted desktop so that when deciding between the two, you can make an educated decision.

If you have any questions please reply below.

Jo Radcliffe

Jo Radcliffe

Co-Founder of 404 team Ltd who is passionate about bringing colour, clarity and budget-ability to businesses' experience of IT.

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