Your own provider’s app will work just fine. But as an alternative, you could use OpenVPN, which is open source software. That means that its code is available for anyone to inspect, which gives you added peace of mind when it comes to security.
OpenVPN for Windows is a fairly minimal program, in that it doesn’t have much of an interface. Most of the setup is done through the system tray, which is hidden behind an upwards arrow at the bottom-right of your taskbar.
Here’s how to get going quickly with your VPN. Again, we’re using ExpressVPN, but the steps are similar for all major providers:
- Download the OpenVPN software from the OpenVPN website at https://openvpn.net. Remember to check the site is secure, and the URL is correct, before downloading. The Installer file is the fastest and easiest option.
- Double-click the installer to begin the install process.
- Click Next.
- Review the license terms, and click I Agree if you are happy to continue.
- On the Choose Component screen, you can customize the installation. The defaults are pictured here, and should work well. Click Next.
- Choose the install location. Again, the default location is fine unless you have a specific reason to change it. Click Install.
The installation may pause here and prompt you to install TAP. This is a normal component installed for VPN connections, so there’s no need to worry: click Install.
Note: if you click Don’t Install here, your OpenVPN connection may not work.
Picking up the installation:
- When the install has finished, you’ll see the word Completed at the bottom of the install log. Click Next.
- The install is complete. There’s a checkbox on this final screen, and it allows you to choose whether you want to read the Readme.txt file. This file contains some quick start information. If you don’t want to open it, just untick the checkbox before you click Finish.
At this point, you’ll need to log on to your VPN provider’s website. You’re looking for its OpenVPN connection files, and the corresponding credentials.
As an example, here’s the screen you’re looking for on the ExpressVPN website. To get here, we clicked Set up ExpressVPN on all your devices, then Manual config. Make sure OpenVPN is selected on the right-hand side.
If you scroll down a little bit here, you’ll find the information you need on the right: the username and password for your OpenVPN connection, as well as a list of server locations. Each location has a downloadable file, which OpenVPN calls a config file. You’ll need to download at least one config file by clicking a location. If you’re not sure which server to connect to, just choose one close by.
Continuing with the installation:
- Find the file(s) you just downloaded, and drag to C:\Program Files\OpenVPN\config
- Locate the OpenVPN GUI item in your Start menu, and click it. You may also have an icon on the desktop, if you prefer to open it from there.
- In the system tray, you’ll find a small connection icon for OpenVPN; right-click this, and you should see the name of the config file(s) that you just dragged over to the folder. Follow the arrow right, and click Connect in the menu that appears.
- You will be prompted for a username and password. Go back to your browser and copy the username and password from the OpenVPN settings page. Don’t use your web login here; it won’t work.
- Click OK.
The system tray icon is now green to indicate that we’re connected. You can hover over the icon to see the status, or right-click it to disconnect.