Virtual Domains Verses Personal and Business Web Hosting Packages
There are two major differences between virtual domains and personal or business web hosting accounts.
Flat Rate verses Measured Rate
Virtual domains are flat-rate. You pay a fixed monthly fee which is unaffected by the amount of traffic that your website receives.
Personal or business web hosting packages include a monthly transfer quota. If that quota is exceeded there are additional per gigabyte data export fees.
Adjunct Service verses Full Package
Virtual domains are an adjunct to a shell account or dial, ISDN, or DSL accounts. They only provide remapping of your domain to a directory within your shell account. It is possible to map multiple domains to different directories within the same shell account.
A personal or business web hosting package is a complete package. It does not require a separate account to be mapped to. It includes disk space to upload your website to. It may, if desired, be mapped to an existing account and in this case, your total disk quota will be the sum of the quota provided by the personal or business web hosting package and that of the account it is mapped to.
Today many people think of the web as being synonymous with the Internet however the web is just a subset of Internet capabilities although today there is a great deal of integration between the web and other Internet services such as mail and ftp.
However, a time existed when the Internet existed without the web. In those days, shell accounts on Unix hosts were the way people normally used the Internet. The only version of Windows that existed back then was Windows 3.11, home computers generally were not sufficiently powerful for full motion video and high fidelity sound.
People located files of interest using a service called Archie and retrieved them using gopher or ftp. Graphics didn't exist, sound didn't exist, Shockwave and Flash didn't exist, everything was text based. High resolution high color graphics were rare.
MacIntosh computers had a small 5-inch black-and-white screen, a floppy drive, and between 128Kb and 512kb of memory (1/8th to 1/2 megabyte). An application called Hypercard permitted the development of GUI based applications with database references and links.
A new internet protocol was created and a server and client made available that provided HyperCard like capability across the Internet. The protocol was called HTTP for HyperText Transport Protocol and this was the first incarnation of what has become known today as the web.
Originally both the server and the early clients were very primitive offering no capabilities for dynamic web pages or much in the way of multi-media. It was possible to include images but what you could do with them was very primitive. We added a web server capability early with the earliest version of software that was available at the time. Initially only web pages under our own domain could be served by this server.
We changed servers several time, eventually to early versions of Apache. Apache offered the capability of serving additional domains and mapping them to space in a users account. The term for this was virtual domains, so named because there was no separate physical machine serving each domain. We began offering this service as an adjunct to web pages.
Over time many other ISP's started up. One particular product, "Internet In A Box" allowed anyone with a PC and a high speed connection to become an ISP of sorts. It basically included web hosting, e-mail, and a few other basic functions in one software package designed to be setup and operated by someone with no real technical background.
Many of these Internet In A Box ISP's came online rapidly and started offering really inexpensive hosting. But they achieved their low cost by offering a limited amount of data transfer and then charging a fee for any data transfer that exceeded that quota. Usually they hid the details of the data transport fees in fine print on a terms and conditions page and unaware customers would find themselves getting surprise bills for hundreds or thousands of dollars. They also marketed these hosting services as packages.
We lost many customers to these competitors because of the low month-to-month fee and the simplicity that offering the services as a package provided. We gained some of the larger customers back after they got their first bill reflecting the data export fees. The end result is that these outfits were essentially gravy-skimming, hosting customers that didn't cost anything to host because nobody viewed their website, and we ended up with the expensive customers that had busy popular websites.
To be more competitive in the market, I created the personal and business web hosting packages essentially packaging our services the same way these low-end gravy skimmers were but I didn't feel comfortable with their ethics so we do publish our data export fees on our main pages in normal sized fonts. I still feel somewhat disadvantaged because many of these other sites hide their fees, and many customers don't bother to look carefully but I hope that in the long run people wise up to those tactics.
That is how we arrived at these two different offerings. I feel it's best to give the consumer a choice and let them choose. If they want a flat-rate service, the "old-school" model is still available, if they prefer a measured-rate package, that's available too.