The Best VPN Clients for Your Favorite Operating System

There are a host of strong VPNs out there for every different type of user. Picking the best VPN is a challenge in its own right. But once you have VPN service, how do you connect to your VPN provider?

Typically, you’ll do it through the VPN provider’s own application. These applications have varying degrees of functionality, stability and security. Some are excellent, but many are mediocre, with infrequent updates and a poor user interface.

But there’s hope in sight! You can connect to your VPN provider using your own client, bypassing the provider’s first-party client with your own third-party option. This is just like using your own email client to access Gmail instead of the Gmail web interface. For many folks the default is fine. But for those with more demanding needs, let’s find the best OpenVPN clients for your favorite operating system.

Note: this article mainly focus on the OpenVPN client, though most of them do support other VPN protocols like PPTP, L2TP/IPSec, etc. You can find out more about the various VPN connections here.

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OpenVPN is one of the best-known VPN clients, and for a good reason. On top of being free and open source, it’s stable, secure and frequently updated. Open source means that code-savvy users are free to investigate the application’s source code and confirm that it’s working to spec, but less code-literate users still benefit from other users’ scrutiny. The OpenVPN GUI is easy to use, with convenient auto-connect options and support for many different configurations.

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OpenVPN also makes mobile clients. Their Android client, called OpenVPN Connect, is the best VPN client for Android. It benefits from the strength of the OpenVPN project, with a strong primary code base and coding expertise to build off from. Because OpenVPN is an open-source project, you’ll notice that OpenVPN Connect is not the only OpenVPN-branded client on the Play Store. The other OpenVPN client is a fork of this project and is reasonably reliable in its own right.

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Unlike Android, iOS provides an acceptable VPN client built in to the operating system. Most VPN service providers develop their own apps for connecting to their services, which are typically buggy and unreliable. OpenVPN Connect offers a better experience after a short setup. You’ll need to connect your iOS device to your computer to transfer the .ovpn files, but after that it’s smooth sailing.

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Tunnelblick is an open-source VPN client for Macs based on the OpenVPN standard, but it’s not developed by OpenVPN itself. It’s still compatible with .ovpn files and certificates, so you’ll be able to connect to any VPN network that supports those. It offers a couple great quality-of-life improvements over most VPN clients, like easy swapping between exit nodes, sharing credentials across nodes and automatically killing your connection if you disconnect from the VPN service.

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NetworkManager (which is included in most distros) is designed to provide automatic connectivity through whatever channels are available. With a little setup, you can configure NetworkManager to connect to any OpenVPN-compatible VPN provider. NetworkManager uses a series of plugins to interface with various network surfaces, so you’ll need to download the OpenVPN plugin. In Ubuntu or Debian-based distros, you can use the command

to download the appropriate OpenVPN plugin. There are also other options for different VPN interfaces like IPsec, PPTP and others. Once you have the plugin installed, just click on the NetworkManager icon in the task bar and select “VPN Connections” to get started.

OpenVPN makes some of the best VPN clients out there. Depending on the platform you’re using, you’ll want to choose the best VPN client for your platform.

10 comments

  1. Interesting: Nowhere do you say wiat “VPN” stands for or why a user would want to use it. This is an all too frequent geed failure.

      • Grant, of course I am serious. I do plenty of homework and I know what VPN stands for, but others who read articles like this (doing their homework) may not and the authors should consider this before using alphabet soup without explanation. Sorry I offended you.

  2. I was hoping to see choices for Chromebooks; selections would need to run as a Chrome app. I’m currently using Zenmate but I’ve not seen any enthusiastic positive reviews of it.

    • Hi Russ! I haven’t been able to find a VPN client for Chromebooks. There are certainly plenty of free VPN apps of varying quality with their own servers, but I haven’t seen anything that can connect to an arbitrary VPN service like the examples above.

  3. Of course, you meant:

    sudo apt-get install network-manager-openvpn

    for installing in Debian/Ubuntu Linux.

  4. The Windows client sucks.

    It worked well most of the times but somtimes it gets itself into an inconsistent state. It gets stuck enabled, or it would fail to connect. It has 3 (three!) services and these services have to be started in a particular order to work. But even after restarting these (in the correct order) I have to restart the machine to have things working again – until the next failure.

    I can tell crappy software when I see it.

    I am looking for a GOOD VPN client for Windows.

    Thank you for the free software, by the way. However I’d rather pay and have something more reliable.

    Anyone knows any?

    • I’m sorry to hear that Feng! I’ve had good experiences with OpenVPN, and it comes highly recommended by other sources as well. As is sometimes the case with open-source software, success or failure can be highly configuration-dependent. As I wrote about, there’s an unfortunate lack of VPN clients that aren’t associated with existing services. SoftEther (https://www.softether.org/) is a well-established open-source project pitched as an alternative to OpenVPN, but I can’t vouch for it.

      As I’m sure you know, Windows 10 has a built-in VPN client. I haven’t liked it much, but it is functional and perhaps worth investigating.

      If online anonymity is your goal, I can give a recommendation for Private Internet Access. They have both a strong service and an functional if novice-oriented client.

      Again, sorry that the recommendations we’re as successful for you!

  5. In my opinion IKEv2 protocol is better for macOS. I did set up tunnelblick on my wife’s mac as it’s easier for her but I would use IKE in her place. Though, OpenVPN protocol is way better for Windows which is why I use it on my own computer. I’d advise to get VPNs that support both IKEv2 and OpenVPN protocols if you use various OS devices in your household. Of course there are way more criteria than just best client/protocol, such as number of mutual connections or speed. Just do your research. We took a while before settling for Surfshark ourselves but it offered the best speeds for our network and didn’t limit devices so we could set up our and children phones/computers with a single account. Better safe than sorry.

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