Linux-based operating systems are still a very small part of the desktop market, but that hasn’t stopped VPN services from providing client applications. The best we’ve found are from ExpressVPN, NordVPN and VPN Unlimited.
Credit: BMJ/ShutterstockEight of the VPN services we’ve reviewed have either command-line-interface (CLI) or graphical-user-interface (GUI) client software for major Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, Mint and Red Hat.
The CLIs were just as easy to use as the GUIs, but we’ve still divided them into separate categories because Linux newbies may prefer windows and buttons over typed commands. Our top recommendation blends the two types of interfaces to get the best of both worlds.
We also tried out Opera VPN, which is really just a browser proxy that’s free and doesn’t require an account. Our test bed was an old HP desktop with a first-generation Intel Core i7 chip and 12GB of RAM running Ubuntu 18.04 Bionic Beaver.
Best Linux VPN Overall: ExpressVPN
ExpressVPN is one of the most expensive VPN services we’ve tested, but its command-line-interface Linux program is a pleasure to use. If you’re not comfortable with typing commands into a terminal, you can use the browser extension instead.
As with the Windows and Mac clients, you need to have a paid ExpressVPN account before you can even download the software. (There’s no trial period, but there is a 30-day money-back guarantee if you’re not satisfied.) The client is easy to install if you follow the directions on the ExpressVPN site.
It wasn’t hard to connect or disconnect, or even to switch servers, using the ExpressVPN CLI client. But until you get familiar with it, you might want to have one terminal window as your active screen, and another terminal window listing the various commands and server options as reference. There are also extensive manual pages.
Or instead, you could just install the ExpressVPN Chrome or Firefox browser extension. Either acts as a remote control for the CLI client, giving you all that Linux speed in a compact little graphical window that replicates all the commands and options possible in the CLI.
Extra features include a kill switch to suspend all internet activity if the VPN connection is lost, and the ability to switch between TCP and UDP web connections on the fly while connected. (Like all the Linux clients we tried, ExpressVPN defaults to the OpenVPN protocol.)
However, you can’t switch from one server to another without disconnecting first; Windscribe’s CLI client did let us “hot-swap” servers.
When it was connected to a U.K. server, the ExpressVPN Linux client streamed shows from both BBC iPlayer and British Netflix without any trouble. Yet we couldn’t get Netflix to stream from Australia, France or the U.S. (We tried to stream Hulu, too, but it didn’t work with any VPN service we tried.)
Best Command-Line Client: NordVPN
While ExpressVPN’s CLI had a decent array of features, it was no match for NordVPN, which offers an ad blocker called CyberSec and a DNS switcher. Both can be enabled and disabled easily from the command line. The ad blocker killed the ads on the Tom’s Guide review page and loaded the in-page video without letting it autoplay.
The CLI client also lets you connect to NordVPN’s array of servers with special features. The “DoubleVPN” ones let you hop through two VPN servers instead of one for greater anonymity.
The “obfuscated’ ones are best for persons logging in from Russia, China or other countries that try to block VPNs. There are also servers set to accommodate P2P connections and the Tor anonymizing protocol, and some to give you dedicated IP addresses.
NordVPN streamed video from Netflix in the U.K. consistently, even though we couldn’t get to stream BBC iPlayer. It also streamed video from the U.S. version of Netflix — from pretty much everywhere. Connect to Australia? You get U.S. Netflix. Germany or France? Ditto. (We noticed this with the Mac and Windows versions of NordVPN too.)
Overall, the NordVPN client worked well and was easy to use. It’s got many more features than any other CLI client we tried, and it’s great if you want to watch U.S. or U.K. Netflix, if not Netflix from other countries.
Best GUI Client: VPN Unlimited
VPN Unlimited didn’t wow us in speed tests on Windows, yet its Linux interface is a nice big GUI with a lot of options. Private Internet Access offered even more features, but its main interface was just a dropdown from the icon bar on the top of the screen, as was Mullvad’s.
VPN Unlimited lets you switch from the default OpenVPN protocol to the newer IKEv2 standard, or to the proprietary KeepSolid Wise protocol, which promises “ultimate security but medium performance.” (KeepSolid is VPN Unlimited’s parent company.)
In our tests, VPN Unlimited consistently streamed video from BBC iPlayer when connected to a U.K. server, which is pretty impressive as BBC iPlayer is tricky to get working from overseas.
VPN Unlimited also worked well with U.S. Netflix when connected to either of VPN Unlimited’s dedicated U.S. streaming servers. But we couldn’t get it to stream Netflix from any other country we tried, including the U.K., Australia, France, Vietnam and even the Isle of Man. (Yes, the Isle of Man has its own version of Netflix.)
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