Outside the home/office
If you find yourself sometimes using your computer via an open public hotspot, you need a VPN—which protects your privacy by encrypting your online communications—to keep you safe. And if you’re using a for-pay hotspot, there is a way to keep the cost down if you’ve got more than one device.
There are plenty of for-pay VPN services, but if you don’t need to use one frequently, you can get by with a free one.
TunnelBear is one of my two favorites because of its simplicity. First, it offers clients for Windows, Macs, iOS and Android. Better than that, though, you can run it without downloading a client—just use a Chrome or Opera extension.
Run the extension, turn on TunnelBear and you’re protected. When you want to stop, just turn it off. You get 500MB of VPN access free every month; if you want more than that, it costs $6.99 per month.
If you use TunnelBear regularly, you’ll find that 500MB a month doesn’t go very far. So if you don’t want to pay the $6.99 per month, CyberGhost is a good alternative—although with a few caveats.
CyberGhost is simple to use: Just download and install the client. (Note: In order to download the free version of the software, click the Free Download link on the upper-right hand of the CyberGhost homepage.) You won’t even need to create an account; after you install the client, you’re ready to go. There are clients for Windows, Mac, iOS, Linux and Android.
There’s no limit to how much data you can use, but there is a limit on how long you can use it: After three hours of continuous use, you’re disconnected (although you can then reconnect). You may have to view ads in the client as well.
And if all of the VPN servers are busy, you’ll have to wait in line to start using it. I typically found wait times of less than five minutes, and occasionally I didn’t have to wait at all.
There are also two for-pay versions—Premium, which costs $6.99 per month, will work on only one device; while Premium Plus, which costs $10.99 per month, will work on up to five. Both versions are ad-free and offer unlimited data. They also are up to five times faster than the free version.
Much as we like to think that free Wi-Fi is available everywhere we go, it’s not. Hotels, airplanes and coffee shops may charge fees, and you may need to pay more if you want to connect more than one device. It’s bad enough to pay for one device—do you really want to pay for several of them?
There’s an easy way around the problem—turn your computer into Wi-Fi hotspot.
Connectify Hotspot Lite offers a way to do it. Connect to a hotspot with your computer as you normally would, and you can then use Connectify Hotspot Lite to set up a Wi-Fi hotspot to which other devices connect—without additional fees.
However, there are a few hurdles you’ll need to clear first. To begin with, the Connectify homepage is a bit confusing when it comes to figuring out how to download the free (Lite) version. At the top of the page are two buttons: Buy Now and Download. Click the Download button and install the app; you can then choose the Lite option during installation, which will let you share Wi-Fi hotspots.
You won’t get other features such as being able to create custom hotspot names, the ability to share a wired connection and more. For that, you’ll need to buy one of the for-pay versions that range from $35 to $60.
Also note that when you install Connectify, you may get a message saying that Windows Firewall is blocking access to the app. If that happens, click the Allow Access button.
Finally, though, you can choose a name and password for your hotspot, click Start Hotspot and then other devices can connect. Connectify will show all of the devices that connect to it and give details about each, including the kind of device, its IP address, upload and download connection speeds, and how much data it has used.
This story, "9 free Windows programs that solve Wi-Fi woes" was originally published by Computerworld.