Your Office in the Clouds: The Best Online Virtual Desktops

I recently wrote “How to Carry Your Office on a Stick,” which showcased the best ways to install portable applications on a USB flash drive. But what if you’re the type of person that doesn’t like to carry a flash drive around or happens to lose or forget it? The solution then might be a desktop in the clouds. This idea of an online or virtual desktop that you can access from any computer has actually been around for years, but continues to evolve with time. Here are some of the best ways to host your desktop online today.
Free Web Desktops
If you’re not interested in hosting your own virtual desktop or are not quite ready to invest in an expensive corporate class solution like the ones offered up by Microsoft (s msft), WMware (s vmw) and Citrix (s ctxs), then you might be interested in some of these free web desktop offerings. These services provide extremely easy do-it-yourself solutions that even the least technically-savvy individuals can set up.
iCloud from Xcerion provides a super-slick web desktop that you can set up in a few minutes. Its free public version provides 3GB of online storage for files and documents, and plenty of free applications such as a Twitter client, instant messenger for many services, email, calendar and much more. You can also add free widgets to your desktop, just like your regular one. It’s a neat product, but one issue that Simon highlighted when he wrote about it earlier this year is a lack of browser support.
EyeOS is another cloud desktop, but it’s a little different because it’s an open-source platform that you can either install and run on your own server, or you can create a free hosted account. One of the big advantages this one has — besides being able to host your own online desktop — is that you can actually create Word documents and spreadsheets with the included web applications. You can save your documents on your virtual desktop or download them to your local computer. Another interesting aspect is the fact that you can even build your own EyeOS web applications thanks to its open-source development platform. There is a helpful wiki for developers too.
eyeOS stands for Global Hosted Operating System and it also offers a web desktop where you can run applications and store files that you can access anytime from anywhere.
One of the best things about is that it offers live connection to Google Docs (s goog) and Zoho Office apps which means you can work on your word documents, spreadsheets and presentations all from your web desktop. There are also many other slick web apps and widgets that you can add to customize your desktop. You can save files on your 15 GB drive and even share files or folders with others. I especially like the ability to share files with users by making them public.
There’s also a lite version which is actually a mobile device version of the platform. This is exciting because it means you can access your files on your virtual desktop from your smartphone.
Self-Host Your Own Virtual Desktop
The concept of self-hosted virtual desktops isn’t new by any means, but the technology has matured over the years and has now become more affordable for smaller firms. The biggest self-hosting desktop solutions were originally from Citrix and Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Services. Thankfully, the incredible expense involved with establishing virtual desktops has steadily declined through the years.thanks to newer services like like VMware’s Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). Citrix has also unleashed its own open-source virtual solution with its Xen Hyperviser product line.
What web desktops have you tried? Please share them in the comments.