Best VPN for Netflix: Our 5 top choices

One of the main reasons why VPNs are so popular is because of their ability to unblock geo-restricted access. In other words, they let you access content that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach due to your location, such as getting the US Netflix service in the UK (with all its extra content). Some countries block Netflix completely, of course – for example, China – and again, you can use a VPN to get around this.

Bear in mind, though, that accessing content which shouldn’t be available in your region is something Netflix doesn’t want you to do. Indeed, it is expressly forbidden in Netflix’s terms and conditions of usage, and there’s a constant battle between the streaming service and VPNs which are circumventing its restrictions. Naturally, you travel down the avenue of VPN content unblocking entirely at your own risk…

How to choose the best VPN for Netflix

As mentioned, there’s an ongoing game of cat-and-mouse between VPNs and Netflix in terms of beating its region restrictions. As a result, there’s a much smaller pool of VPN providers to choose from in this particular arena. However, while your options may be more limited than usual, there are still a few things to look out for.

Download speeds and server coverage should be your top priorities. Video streaming is an intensive activity, and you’ll need nippy performance levels to avoid suffering at the hands of stuttering footage, particularly when watching HD content (or indeed 4K). Having plenty of servers on offer will mean you’ll be more likely to be able to find that vital fast connection, as well (generally speaking).

Privacy and security are important whatever you’re using a VPN for, of course, with a ‘no logs’ policy and good encryption being definite must-haves. Support for mobile devices, and hopefully native clients for iOS/Android, will obviously be handy for watching flicks on the move.

And another good idea is to plump for a service with a money-back guarantee – that will be useful if things change suddenly, as they can with Netflix, and the particular VPN you’ve gone for ends up getting the cold shoulder from the streaming service. At least if you can get a refund, you won’t have wasted money (and obviously enough, the longer the duration of the money-back guarantee, the better).

Bearing all that in mind, let’s look at the five best VPN services for Netflix.

  • Known for its security-first approach, NordVPN is our best all-round VPN for using Netflix. The service offers fast performance, and in testing it barely affected our download speeds compared to our non-VPN rates.

    Besides the United States, NordVPN supports Netflix in Sweden, France and India. Further benefits of the service include super-strong 2048-bit encryption, DNS leak protection, and an extensive choice of servers. The company has a strict no-logs policy regarding the user’s online activity.

    Note that while NordVPN supports up to six devices, you can only connect one on the same server with the same protocol, which might bother some people (in other words, if you want multiple devices on the same server, you’ll have to use different protocols with them all).

    There’s a free 3-day trial (hidden away in the FAQ), and the service comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee. The 1-year plan offers the best value for money. The packages available are:

    While Hotspot Shield doesn’t have a great deal of server locations to choose from, the service makes up for it with excellent performance. Both upload and download speeds were marginally higher than our normal rates when we tested the VPN, which is obviously fantastic for streaming.

    On the downside, the client offers very little in terms of configuration. However, this VPN’s privacy policy is a favourable one, stating that any data which has been recorded is deleted upon ending the VPN session.

    Hotspot Shield also boasts very attractive pricing. The 2-year plan is the best value, unless you’re prepared to commit to the ‘forever’ offering which could work out extremely cheap in the long run. The packages available are:

    This British Virgin Islands-based provider offers good download speeds and a great mobile VPN experience, with some high-quality native clients for iOS, Android and even BlackBerry. It supports up to three devices – which can be either PCs, tablets or phones – and doesn’t log traffic or browsing data. On the security front it boasts 256-bit encryption over OpenVPN, L2TP – IPSEC, PPTP, and SSTP protocols.

    ExpressVPN falls down a little, however, when it comes to value for money. The service is a bit more expensive than many rivals, but that said, a reassuring 30-day money-back guarantee is available (even if there isn’t a free trial). ExpressVPN offers three price plans, with the 12-month plan providing the best savings. The packages available are:

    Currently, Buffered VPN only works for gaining access to Netflix’s US library, but the company says it is working on unblocking Netflix for other countries as well. While great for desktop computers, note that the service doesn’t have native mobile clients (although there is a detailed guide for setting up on Android, iOS and other platforms).

    What makes Buffered VPN a good pick? The service’s biggest strength is its excellent speeds in terms of both downloads and uploads. There’s no logging of the user’s online activity, either. This VPN offers a refund until you’ve used up either 10 hours, 10GB of bandwidth, or partaken of 100 sessions – whichever comes first – and that’s another highlight of the service.

    The slight fly in the ointment is the pricing, which is on the expensive side – although if you sign up for a year, it’s not bad value for money by any means. The packages available are:

    StrongVPN’s strong point (ahem) is its security, which includes broad protocol support (PPTP, L2TP, SSTP, OpenVPN and IPSec), 2048-bit encryption and the company’s own StrongDNS service, which protects the user from DNS leaks.

    The service is simple and based on the essentials. It boasts solid server coverage, support for all the major platforms – Windows, Mac, iOS and Android – with manual setup guides for the rest. In our testing, performance proved to be fast, actually improving our download speeds on long-distance tests, meaning swift and reliable connections to US Netflix.

    Do note, though, that StrongVPN only supports two simultaneous connections, which is a little disappointing. And the service doesn’t have much variety when it comes to pricing plans – there are only two available with a short 5-day money-back guarantee. Going monthly is expensive, but if you sign up for the full year, it’s more reasonably priced. The packages available are:

          

Best VPN for China: Our 5 top choices

As you’re probably aware, China has a history of very strict policies regarding online content. The country recently approved a new cybersecurity law, expected to go into effect this summer, which further establishes firm state control over information flows and tech equipment.

As for VPN providers, the situation is no different in the country. China routinely campaigns against VPNs, aiming to interrupt or completely block the services. Still, using a VPN is not illegal in China – the focus is on censorship, rather than punishment.

Indeed, VPNs are very popular in China, especially among expatriates and those in academic circles. But circumventing the ‘Great Firewall’, the nickname given to the country’s vast system of online censorship, is becoming harder. It’s important to note that almost every major internet service provider is controlled by Chinese authorities.

How to choose the best VPN service for China

Dealing with this level of censorship of the net is far from easy, but some VPNs are willing to tackle the problem, having proven methods of maintaining uptime in a difficult online climate. Obviously you need to look for a capable service in this respect, and pick out a reliable VPN, too.

Choosing one with high quality customer support is also important, for when downtime does rear its ugly head. And obviously the number and range of available servers (particularly those in Asia) will help you obtain a better, faster connection. Tight security and privacy is, as ever, a primary consideration as well.

So which are the best VPN services for those based in China? We’ve picked out five top-notch efforts for your delectation.

  • We’ve also chosen the best VPNs for

    ExpressVPN is one of the most popular VPNs in China, and it’s a go-to provider for many because it deftly navigates around the Great Firewall. The service’s wide array of server locations is a big plus, with Hong Kong and Singapore-based servers being especially relevant in this case.

    ExpressVPN offers a consistent performance, with neat dedicated apps for the mobile experience. For any trouble that might occur, there’s round-the-clock live chat and email support available from China (the website is not blocked).

    There’s no free trial of the service and the pricing isn’t cheap. Still, the 30-day money-back guarantee at least gives you some fall-back, and the year-long plan provides the best value for money. The packages available are:

    One of the main advantages of VyprVPN is its proprietary Chameleon security protocol which can help bypass VPN blocking, scrambling OpenVPN packet metadata to ensure it’s safe from the tendrils of deep packet inspection.

    VyprVPN is a tier-1 VPN network, which means the outfit owns all of its servers. There are enough of them to ensure good performance (14 are located in Asia), along with solid support for mobile operating systems, and 24/7 live chat for troubleshooting.

    The much-praised Chameleon protocol is excluded from the basic plan, which itself offers a rather miserly two simultaneous connections. On top of that, the service is expensive, but does offer a 30-day refund period and a three-day trial. Despite the cost, what’s on offer here could well be worth paying for – your best bet is the Pro plan to make sure you get the benefit from Chameleon. The packages available are:

    This Hungarian VPN offers a rather enjoyable experience that’s easy to set up. Surprisingly, there is no native mobile support which is a shame, considering you can connect up to five devices simultaneously. Instead, the company offers detailed guides for configuring mobiles manually – although that won’t be ideal for beginners.

    There are several servers in Asia which make for a reliable and speedy performance, and you get round-the-clock technical support. One of the more interesting features is the refund policy, which is valid for up to 10 hours, 100 sessions or 10GB of bandwidth.

    Buffered VPN is somewhat expensive, with the 12-month plan providing the best value. The packages available are:

    AirVPN is a very up-front service with an engaging forum community. That’s not surprising when you find out that it’s operated by ‘activists and hacktivists’ in defence of net neutrality and other online freedoms.

    The website lists all the available servers and their current load. The number of server locations is low, admittedly, although seven are located in Asia. Nevertheless, the provider has no problems manoeuvring around geolocation restrictions and China is no exception. The service offers solid and reliable performance, even if signing up and getting going is a bit of a hassle.

    AirVPN has reasonably priced plans – five of them, to be exact. A 3-day plan offers a convenient way to try the service out, while the 12-month plan boasts the best value for money. The packages available are:

    StrongVPN is one of the favourites among visitors and expats in China. It supports the most popular platforms with detailed manual setup instructions for others. This VPN features a decent number of server locations, and has no problems navigating around the Great Firewall, with connections proving reliable and pretty fast.

    And if you want security, there’s wide protocol support, up to 2048-bit encryption, along with StrongDNS, the company’s own concoction to protect against DNS leaks. However, there is a limit of two simultaneous device connections which spoils the fun just a little.

    The plan selection is also on the weak side, with only two options to pick from. Both come with a 5-day money-back guarantee, with the annual plan clearly offering the best value for money. The packages available are:

          

Allo, Allo – Google’s messenger is coming to the web

It’s fair to say Google Allo hasn’t exactly been a huge success since it launched last September, but Google isn’t giving up on its new messenger baby yet: the app is coming to the web, according to a tweet from company exec Nick Fox.

The attached picture shows the familiar Allo interface, complete with Google Assistant bot, running inside a web browser. Fox said the image is a “sneak peak” and that the app is “still in development” so we don’t know when we’ll actually get to use it.

Whether or not a web launch for Google’s newest messaging platform will be enough to get more people actually using it remains to be seen – while millions of users have at least given the app a spin, it dropped out of the top app charts on Android and iOS pretty swiftly after the launch.

Getting the message

Part of the problem is Google has so many different messaging products out there: it just updated its official Android SMS client, while Google Hangouts doesn’t seem to be going anywhere just yet, and it has a separate FaceTime-style video-calling app.

There’s nothing particularly bad about Allo, and it does offer some useful features through the Google Assistant integration – but it’s up against a lot of other established messaging apps, and it doesn’t yet support basic SMS functionality either.

At least we know Google is continuing to actively develop Allo, for the time being anyway. Maybe at the Google I/O conference later in the year we’ll get a better idea of Google’s messaging masterplan – if indeed there is one.

Via AndroidPolice

      

The best free-to-play Steam games 2017

Free-to-play Steam games

Gaming on a PC is a wonderful thing. Should you both have the money and the time to spend, you can play the very best games on the very best tech and sit back while you face, heart and soul gently weep. However, investing in all that hardware can leave the ol’ bank balance looking a little penurious. Enter the wonderful world of free-to-play, via Steam.

And while F2P might come bounding into the room with the shadow of the microtransaction looming over it, that doesn’t mean you have to play any of these games with soul-selling agreement to spend money further down the line. Every ‘free’ game we’ve gathered together here can be enjoyed for hours on end, all without spending a dime.

1. Team Fortress 2

The game that defined the team-based shooter genre – still as smart and satisfying as ever

This year, Team Fortress 2 will celebrate its 10th anniversary. And yet, despite being a decade-old game from a developer that’s now more focused on delivery platforms and VR, it remains one of PC gaming’s most popular and lauded titles. Log in on any given day and you’ll find almost every lobby full of players itching to show off their latest hat acquisition.

Sure, Team Fortress 2 is as old as the Earth itself, but there’s a reason so many developers have cited it as one of their favourite and most influential games. You can see its DNA in almost any team-based shooter – the quick rounds, the team-based objectives, the vastly different yet equally satisfying characters and more. Overwatch might be the current king of multiplayer shooters, but it owes its fealty to TF2. Quite frankly, your Steam Library is practically naked without this free-to-play gem among its number – get it downloaded now.

Download it here: Team Fortress 2

2. Neverwinter

A classic fantasy MMO that’s delightfully ecelectic and doesn’t skimp on the action

When it comes to the world of PC-based fantastical MMOs, chances are the words ‘World of Warcraft’ just popped immediately into your head. You’re not alone in that association – most of us think of WoW when it comes to popular yet ultimately waning genre. However, the online realm of Azeroth isn’t technically free-to-play, and it’s also not the only series proving its worth after many a year in operation. Take the wonderfully eclectic Neverwinter.

Drawing from the deep pool of lore that is Dungeons & Dragons, Neverwinter ticks all the boxes you’d expect from an action-heavy RPG: boundless quests, skill-focused combat and a shed load of microtransaction offers. You can easily ignore these as everything is unlockable via in-game progression – and that includes any major world updates and expansions, such as the brilliant Storm King’s Thunder that went live last year. Not bad for a game costing you a grand total of ‘free’.

Download here: Neverwinter

3. Hawken

Fast-paced multiplayer mech battles with smart matchmaking to help you find suitable opponents

When it comes to the pure escapism of videogames, few things are as empowering as jumping into a powered-up mech and fighting it out with other players like a bunch of jacked-up gunslingers. Hawken has this cool factor in spades, with its mixture of classic match types (team death match, capture the flag, etc) all given a new lease of life thanks to the fast-paced action of Hawken’s mech-based firefights.

There are nine maps to choose from and a matchmaking system that slots you into lobbies full of players of similar experience level. However, the players at the top of the rankings have earned their lofty perches, so you’ll want to spend some time learning how to rack up kills with us mere mortals before testing your mettle against Hawken’s elite.

While its new developer Reloaded Games (the old one folded back in 2015) has been a little light on the foreseeable update front, Hawken still remains one of PC gaming’s most addictive and rewarding games in the free-to-play/freemium bracket.

Download here: Hawken

4. Faeria

A unique take on the collectible card genre, with a board that’s an active, organic part of the game

CCGs (or collectible card games as they’re known to their respective mothers) are big business on PC. Games such as Hearthstone, Magic: The Gathering and Duel of Champions have proved there’s a huge market for virtual decks and card battles, but it’s the titles that innovate (like the tabletop-inspired Armello or the storytelling of Chronicle) that really grab our attention here at TechRadar.

The world of free-to-play also has plenty of CCGs to its name, and the relatively new Faeria (which arrived only last year) is easily one of the most intriguing and rewarding you can download today.

It has all your usual elements – including a heavy fantasy aesthetic and a treasure trove of cards to collect – but it’s the ability to actively build and shape the board on which you’re playing that really sets it apart. It brings a whole new dimension to tactics and makes for a CCG experience like no other.

Download here: Faeria

5. Clicker Heroes

A free-to-play game that demonstrates the power of a simple premise superbly executed

Sometimes a game comes along with a concept so simple yet so ingenious it should probably have a massive sticker across its front that reads: “Beware, may take over entire life.” Okay, we may have spilled our morning mug of hyperbole over the keyboard, but that doesn’t mean Clicker Heroes is anything less than super addictive.

The goal is simple – simply hover over the enemy character to the right of your screen in Clicker Heroes and click them into oblivion. Each time you quell a foe they’ll drop gold, enabling you to unlock more heroes and swell your ranks. The more you kill, the greater your chance of picking up ‘hero souls’ (the most lucrative currency in the game), which enables you to buy super-powerful dudes called Ancients. It’s one of the mobile-orientated titles that somehow works perfectly on PC, despite its simple concept – not bad for a game about incessantly clicking.

Download here: Clicker Heroes

6. Path of Exile

A procedurally-generated dungeon crawler that’s brilliant whether played alone or with teammates

Bleak its story and world may be, but that doesn’t stop Path of Exile from being one of the best games on Steam. That it happens to be a free-to-play title where nothing is locked behind a paywall? Well, that’s just the icing on the blood-drenched cake. A game built in the top-down, dungeon crawling template of Diablo, Path of Exile’s action-RPG package has replayability by the bucketful – its outdoor areas and underground dungeons are procedurally generated, giving each time you load it up on Steam a unique flavour all its own.

Whether you’re playing alone in a party of friends/like-minded strangers, Path of Exile has so much going for it. Its combat system, which enables you to combine skills and effects into deadly combinations, feels as robust as anything its contemporaries have to offer (and maybe a little bit better, too), while the levelling system feels organic and endlessly rewarding to the dedicated player.

Download here: Path of Exile

7. Dota 2

Enormously popular and hugely addictive, Dota 2 is a cornerstone of professional gaming

These days, MOBAs (multiplayer online battle arenas) are big business. The team-based battlers are the genre that’s driving eSports into the mainstream at a deadly pace, and Valve’s tremendously rewarding offering is one of the best on the market today (second only to the stellar League of Legends). So what makes Dota 2 so popular? Why are millions of players taking to its cartoonish servers every single day?

]The answer is a set of champions that feel equally robust and rewarding and a heavy emphasis on skill that rewards players who study the game’s ever evolving metagame.

That metagame is one of the things that makes Dota 2 so unique, and the key to its longevity. Its community – one that embraces spectating matches as much as taking part in them – is constantly re-evaluating what skills and tactics it takes to overcome a particular scenario or set of champions during a phase, creating a perpetually shifting algorithm for success that’s almost as addictive as playing Dota 2 itself.

Download here: Dota 2

8. EVE: Online

A sci-fi MMORPG of unrivalled scale and complexity

Much like World of Warcraft, Counter-Strike and Team Fortress 2, EVE: Online has become less of a game and more of a fundamental part of PC gaming’s DNA. The grand MMORPG is a space opera like no other, one that makes the likes of Mass Effect of anything with a Star Wars logo on it look like a kids TV show by comparison,

Being able to build your own fleet in real-time, entering into an entire galaxy filled alliances, wars, trade agreements and empires built entirely by players who traverse the stars of developer CCP’s virtual cosmos is a gaming experience like no other.

The fact you can download and play one of the industry’s greatest games right now still shocks us. Even if you’re not a fan of hard sci-fi or persistent worlds, EVE: Online is a galaxy worth exploring with vigor. Get this free-to-play title in your Steam Library pronto.

Download here: EVE: Online

9. Planetside 2

Sci-fi warfare writ large, with three factions – all thousands strong – battling for supremacy

There aren’t many shooters on this list of the best free-to-play games on Steam, mainly because the one’s you probably hear about most often are the ones with the loudest advertising campaigns (and price tags to match), but that doesn’t mean free automatically equals terrible. Take Planetside 2, one of the most ambitious shooters ever made, and it’s right here on PC just waiting to be played.

So what makes Planetside 2 so good? For a start it’s a game that manages to recreate the hectic, brutality of a battlefield by having thousands of players engaging one another on a single map. As one of three factions, the goal is simple: win territory and destroy your enemies.

With everything from jump packs to full-scale vehicles, Planetside 2 doesn’t do anything on a small scale. The game has a pretty steep learning curve, and a near non-existent tutorial, but stick with it and it’s more empowering than any short-lived killstreak or overpriced DLC.

Download here: Planetside 2

10. War Thunder

Skilfully crafted combat, with vehicles cherry-picked from throughout history

There are plenty of MMOs and battle simulators out there that are free-to-play on PC – World of Tanks being a very popular alternative – but there’s something about the vast spectacle of War Thunder‘s recreation of vehicular mayhem that feels that bit more real and believable. From battles on land to dogfights in the sky, all the way to duels across the swell of the ocean, War Thunder makes vehicular combat feel downright operatic.

You can adjust the controls of each WW2 and Korean War vehicle to increase varying levels of realism, enabling you to take to the skies, the seas or the churned mud of the battlefield and start trading shells with other players in huge maps filled with action. There’s plenty of fresh content too, from the addition of ships from the age of fighting sail to the expansion of forces such as the now complete Japanese Imperial Army. Now, stop reading and go enlist… for free!

Download here: War Thunder

      

The best free blogging sites 2017

Free blogging sites

Free blogging sites have come a long way in recent years, and it’s now easier than ever to create a professional-looking blog to share a hobby with likeminded people, express your opinions, and establish an online presence.

These free blogging sites are aimed at hobbyist bloggers – blogs are created and managed online, and hosted on the blogging platform’s own servers. If you want to create a self-hosted blog, the downloadable version of WordPress is an excellent option, with total flexibility, support for third-party plugins, and as much storage space as your hosting plan allows.

Have we missed your preferred blogging site? Let us know in the comments below.

WordPress is the site of choice for professional and amateur bloggers alike, with stunning customizable templates and handy widgets for tracking your blog’s growth

1. WordPress

With advanced features and generous storage, WordPress is the best free blogging site

Powerful and highly customizable, WordPress is a brilliant platform for blogs of any size, and bloggers of any level of experience.

Creating your first blog is very straightforward, with a simple wizard that guides you through the process of choosing a name and suitable theme. You can leave it there and begin writing posts immediately, but the real fun lies in the more advanced editor, which lets you customize virtually every aspect of your blog’s appearance.

Unlike some blogging sites, WordPress isn’t a drag-and-drop affair, and you’ll have to familiarize yourself with its system of menus. It’s well worth the effort, though, and enables you to create something truly personal. The editor also lets you create static pages – like a writer’s biography, for example.

The post-writing interface is much like an ordinary desktop word processor (though some options are presented in a toolbar at the top, while others are in a menu at the side, which can be a little confusing at first). Again, time spent getting to know the interface is rewarded with advanced features like customizable social media sharing buttons, geotagging, and the ability to pick a custom style for individual posts. Sometimes you might want to create a photo gallery, for example, and other times a more text-focused style would be more appropriate. You can also view and edit the HTML source.

As your blog grows, WordPress lets you track its stats, including page views, visitors, likes and comments over time. You can also see how readers reach your site, which content they viewed, and where are were in the world, so you can tailor your content accordingly.

Your site is hosted on WordPress’s servers, with an address in the format yoursite.wordpress.com. Users of the free service don’t get email or live chart support, but the WordPress community forums are very active and questions are usually answered within a few minutes.

WordPress displays ads on free blogs, but provided you can live with that, it’s undoubtedly the best free blogging site around.

Try it online: WordPress

Blogger’s templates include mobile-optimized versions that look great on smartphones

2. Blogger

A free web platform with mobile-friendly features and Google app integration

Blogger is another superb blogging platform. It’s not quite as powerful as WordPress, but more accessible for new users, which comes as no surprise when you learn that it’s owned by Google.

Blogger offers an excellent selection of templates, all of which include mobile versions optimized for smaller screens – a very sensible addition with so many people accessing online content through smartphones.

Blogger’s post-editing tool is much like WordPress’s, but offers fewer options. As a result, its toolbars are less confusing – a trade-off between power and usability.

One of Blogger’s best features is its integration with other Google apps and services. For example, it uses your Google Drive account to store images and other files for your blog. Google Drive gives you 15GB of space free, so Blogger is a good choice if you’re planning to share a lot of high-res photos.

Spam comments are a big problem on blogs, so Blogger’s automatic spam filter can help save your sanity. You can monitor comments via Blogger’s dashboard, which also lets you see visitor stats. There are some handy visualizations here, including a world map to show the global distribution of your readers.

Your blog will have an address in the format yoursite.blogger.com, and, like all Google services, will include ads. Support is available through the Blogger user forum, which is very active but has a strange layout that can be a little off-putting.

In all other respects, Blogger is brilliant – one of the best free blogging sites if you prioritize ease of use over flexibility and are a fan of the Google ecosystem.

Try it online: Blogger

Wix offers a very straightforward wizard that guides you through each step of creating your first blog

3. Wix

A great free blogging site for completely new users, with two easy editors and free stock photos

Wix is our favorite general-purpose free website builder, and is great for creating stylish blogs too. Its chief drawback is storage – you have just 500MB for your files and data traffic is restricted to 500MB per month, so you’ll need to upgrade to a premium plan if your blog really takes off.

Once you’ve created an account, select ‘blog’ from the list of categories, then choose either Wix Artificial Design Intelligence (ADI) or Wix Editor. Wix ADI asks a series of very simple questions, then builds a site around your answers – ideal if you’ve never created a site before and find the idea intimidating. Wix Editor is very straightforward too (simpler than Blogger or WordPress), but is much more flexible than ADI and will be a better choice for most users.

One of Wix’s best features is its choice of image sources, including your hard drive, social media, free images from Wix itself, and pictures from its partner stock photography site Bigstock. If your blog posts are text-heavy, these free images are a great way to make it look more appealing.

On the downside, your custom wix.com URL will include a string of not-too-snappy letters and numbers that might make it hard to memorize.

That aside, its resources and friendly approach mean Wix just pips Weebly to third place. Free Wix sites include a tiny ad for the company in the top right and another at the bottom, but these won’t spoil the look for your blog.

Try it online: Wix

4. Weebly

Weebly’s toolkit includes social media integration and a place to insert Google Analytics tracking code

Weebly’s flexible editor lets you drag and drop your way to a professional-looking blog

Weebly takes a modular approach to blog-building, with a drag-and-drop editor that lets you choose which elements to add to your site, and where.

Pick a basic template, then plonk various types of content onto the page, including social media links, text, images, maps, and sections of code. It’s a refreshingly simple way to build a blog that feels unique to you, but doesn’t require any messing about with menus. It’s worth noting, however, that certain content blocks can only be positioned in certain areas; it isn’t a total free-for-all. This makes sense – forcing you to stick within the confines of your chosen template stops the page looking messy – but you might find it limiting.

Blog posts are made in the same way – drag text boxes, picture frames, buttons and page breaks into position, then click to edit them. One particularly nice feature is the ‘secret draft link’, which lets you preview your unpublished post, and even share it with others via email before releasing it into the wild.

Weebly has some other interesting tricks up its sleeve too, including an area for pasting in Google Analytics tracking code (though it doesn’t offer analytics itself).

As with Wix, you’re only given 500MB for uploaded content, so photographers might want to look elsewhere. Weebly puts an ad in your site’s footer, but it doesn’t obscure any of your content.

Try it online: Weebly

If you want somewhere for writing exercises or a personal journal, try security-first platform Penzu

5. Penzu

Keep it secret, keep it safe with a secure journal for your private thoughts

Whereas the other free blogging sites are designed to get as many eyeballs on your posts as possible, Penzu is the equivalent of a locked diary stashed in a safe.

Penzu is a journal platform that makes your posts private by default and locks them down with at least one password (even after you’re logged in, you need a second one to read or edit your posts). That’s because it’s designed for private thoughts and personal reflection. There are free apps for iOS and Android that enable you to update your Penzu diary anywhere, but the contents are for your eyes only.

Penzu isn’t a tool for self-promotion, so although it’s far from ugly, it understandably focuses on function rather than looks. Custom colors and backgrounds come at a price – currently US$10 (about £8, AU$13) per year.

It’s a shame that 128-bit AES encryption is also limited to the paid-for version, and there’s a fair amount of pressure to upgrade. Extra options are often dangled under your nose then yanked away, but the core offering is a good one and if you simply want a place to record your thoughts and practise writing, Penzu could be just what you need.

Try it online: Penzu

      

Download of the day: Free MP3 Cutter and Editor

Free MP3 Cutter and Editor

Sometimes an MP3 or WAV file isn’t what you want. You might have recorded from an old vinyl LP or cassette and now have the entire album as a single audio file, or you might be making your own recordings and want to add fades to the intro or outro. Or you might just want to adjust the volume to make it louder or quieter.

You don’t need a complex editing app for that. Just download Free MP3 Cutter and Editor instead.

Why you need it

If you’re digitizing old analog records or have entire albums rendered as one single file, it makes sense to split things into individual tracks. Free MP3 Cutter and Editor enables you to do just that, and if the beginning or end is too jarring you can quickly add a fade in or out. You can also adjust the volume or maximize it to get it as loud as possible without distortion, and you can convert stereo to mono and vice versa.

Free MP3 Cutter and Editor is no substitute for a proper audio editor, but it isn’t supposed to be: It’s fast, useful and free. Just watch what you’re agreeing to in the installer, as it offers to install other programs too.

Download here: Free MP3 Cutter and Editor

      

The best free Skype alternatives 2017

Free Skype alternatives

When it comes to messaging and video chat tools, Skype is one of the first name that springs to mind. Skype managed to build itself a huge following even before it was bought by Microsoft in 2011, and the user base has continued to grow ever since.

The appeal is understandable – Skype lets you send text-based messages, as well as conducting video chats, completely free of charge – but it’s far from being the only option out there.

It may be that you have an aversion to Microsoft-owned software, or you might just like the idea of trying out something new. Here we take a look at five alternatives which let you communicate with people on a variety of platforms, both mobile and desktop, showing you that there is plenty of choice in the world of messaging and VoIP services. Which one will you opt for?

1. Viber

Free text messaging and video calls for desktop and mobile – the best free Skype alternative

Viber gets off to a pretty decent start thanks to the fact that it is available as an iOS, Android, Windows 10 and desktop app – including Mac and Linux, meaning this is one service that has all the bases covered. Another neat touch, for mobile users at least, is that you can connect to other users via their existing mobile number. This level of integration means that it sits very happily alongside your existing phone and messaging apps so you can take full advantage of its free offerings whenever you want to contact some you know to be using the app.

Viber offers text, voice and video calls free of charge, and if you are willing to pay, you can use Viber Out to make calls to any phone number in the world – and this can even be used from the desktop. Group calling is a great feature for groups of friends, and there is the usual selection of stickers to choose from. Oh… and we’re happy to report that this is an ad-free app!

Download here: Viber for Windows

Download here: Viber for other platforms

2. WhatsApp

A hugely popular Skype alternative, but free voice chat is exclusive to iPhone users for now

WhatsApp is possibly the biggest and best-known messaging app of its time, and it’s extremely unlikely that you’ve not heard of it. But just because you’ve heard of it, it doesn’t mean you’ve used it – and if you haven’t, what are you missing out on? Like most other tools in this category WhatsApp is a cross-platform tool (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, even Windows Phone – but nothing for Linux users), and you don’t even need to create an account to use it thanks to the fact that it can make use of your phone number.

End-to-end encryption is included to allay the fears of those with security concerns, and while the limit of 10 people in a group chat is not as generous as it could be, it should be enough for most people. While you can conduct voice chats and send media files back and forth between contacts, video calling is not (yet) available to all platforms (it’s iOS-only), so this could sway your decision about whether WhatsApp is the app for you or not.

Download here: WhatsApp for Windows

Download here: WhatsApp for other platforms

3. Talky

Free, browser-based chat for up to 15 people – no dedicated software required

Talky is a little different to most messaging tools in that it is, primarily, a web-based service. There is an iOS app available, but if you’re looking for a true cross-platform chatting tool you are going to have to look elsewhere. You can have a group video chat with up to 15 participants, making Talky great not only for family and friends, but also for collaborative working. With this in mind, it is also possible to activate screen sharing so everyone involved in a conversation can see what’s happening on one person’s display.

Creating a chat room is incredibly simple – just head to the Talky website, type the URL you’d like to use, and you’re ready to go. All that remains is to share the URL with people you want to chat with; to keep things private, rooms can be password-protected. There’s no getting away from the fact that Talky is a little light on features, but sometimes simple is what’s needed.

Try it online: Talky

Download here: Talky for iOS

4. WeChat

A free replacement your usual call and messaging apps, with web and desktop versions

WeChat is mainly a mobile app – it’s available for iOS, Windows Phone and Android – but there’s also the option of using the web-based version of the service for desktop users who want to get in on the action. That said, it’s worth pointing out that a mobile phone is needed to log into the web version of WeChat… an unnecessarily convoluted process that many people will find off-putting. There is also a Windows 10 app in the Windows Store, and for Mac in the App Store.

Once you’re up and running, WeChat offers voice, text, video and group chats, and it can be used to replace your existing SMS and phone apps. It is possible to make calls to landlines and mobiles, but this is not an option that is available worldwide. WeChat also veers into social networking territory by enabling you to meet new people with its People Nearby feature.

Try it online: WeChat

Download here: WeChat

5. ooVoo

Fun video chat with emoji and stickers, but watch out for the in-app purchases

Available for every platform you could possibly hope for, ooVoo offers free video chats between up to 12 people at a time. In order to establish connections between you can your contacts, the service pulls in information from emails, instant messages and social networks, and this is something that may not sit comfortably with some people. Interestingly, it is possible to place a call to someone even if they are not using ooVoo as non-users are able to answer calls on Facebook.

The usual selection of emoji, stickers and GIFs are to be found here, and they can be used even during video calls. ooVoo may be free, but there are attempts to claw in money from its millions of users by selling avatars – this is something to keep in mind before letting your kids run rampant in the app.

With patented SuperClear technology to optimise video calls even on slow connection, this is a chat tool worth taking a look at if you want to see who you’re chatting with rather than just exchanging messages.

Download here: ooVoo for Windows

Download here: ooVoo for other platforms

      

Why Dell’s gamble on Linux laptops has paid off

This article was provided to TechRadar by Linux Format, the number one magazine to boost your knowledge on Linux, open source developments, distro releases and much more. Subscribe to the print or digital version of Linux Format here.

The whole juggernaut that is now Linux on Dell started as the brainchild of two core individuals, Barton George (Senior Principal Engineer) and Jared Dominguez (OS Architect and Linux Engineer).

It was their vision that began it all back in 2012. It was long hours, uncertain futures and sheer belief that people really did want Linux laptops that sustained them. Here is the untold story of how Dell gained the top spot in preinstalled Linux on laptops.

Where do you start when no one has ever really even touched such a concept? The duo did have some experience of the area before. George explained that the XPS and M3800 Linux developer’s laptops weren’t Dell’s first foray into Linux laptops. Those with long memories may remember Dell testing the waters for a brief while by having a Linux offering alongside Windows laptops. By their own admission it didn’t work out. “We misread the market,” commented George.

This first attempt at Linux on laptops failed mainly because most non-technical users were blinded by the cheap price and didn’t understand what they were actually buying.

Dell found itself with purchasers who thought that they had scored an incredibly cheap laptop only to hit the inevitable question: “Where the heck has Windows gone?” which was generally followed by costly support issues and potential returns for the company.

The other unfortunate side effect was that by appealing to users with low-end hardware the experience was less than impressive even for those knowledgeable in Linux.

Thankfully Dell decided to give Linux on laptops a second attempt thanks to George and Dominguez’s internal lobbying efforts. It isn’t a well-known fact but Dell has an internal skunkworks project where tiny projects can pitch ideas and get official Dell support.

Proving you can’t keep a good operating system down, George and Dominguez bid for funds in the Dell projects forum to produce a quality alternative to OS X and Windows. It was a tense wait to see if they had done enough to get the blessing of the skunkworks.

Thankfully, the project scored a green light. However, the struggle was only just beginning as they had a comparatively miniscule budget of $40,000 (around £32,000, AU$52,000) and just six months to prove that not only could they build a compelling Linux on laptops offering but that Dell could turn it into a viable product and make money off of it.

Learning how not to create Linux laptops from the first time was helpful but there were some major differences with the new project. The first one being that they needed to nail their market and it was a crucial concern given their previous failure to find the right one.

Know your market

In order to make sure they had the right ideas and concepts they jumped on a plane bound for the West Coast and landed in California to speak to several “very large web shops” that the pair declined to name.

What made the trip that bit more awkward for them was the fact that the Dell duo could only show some prototypes of a laptop that they “may sorta perhaps” have coming to market. No guarantees, no promises.

Universally the reception was ‘Get back to us when you have the real product but we sure are interested.’ This was positive news because the pair knew that these were the type of companies that could purchase many units and make the project financially viable.

This time the duo had the right initial market. It was big, commercial web-scale operators and their developers who were crying out for a fully supported Linux laptop.

Back from their successful trip, the duo realised that the project would never see the light of day without big support from someone with gravitas championing its cause. Fortunately, they didn’t have to look far. In this instance, they had Michael Dell’s executive assistant as their champion – aside from Mr Dell himself they were unlikely to top that, so the team felt confident their backs were covered, but now needed to deliver on their promises.

“They can provide the air cover but you need to work hard on the ground,” was George’s take on the situation and when it came to the hardware they had to make sure it was a good offering and more importantly worked well with Linux. Cost was almost secondary to making sure the product worked and was popular with their big clients they’d met previously who had loved the idea.

The first offerings needed to be both priced attractively and be fairly configurable given that they had to appeal to a range of users. The XPS was seen as the obvious choice given its quality, expandability and popularity. The first XPS Linux offering (Gen1 circa 2012) was a single configuration built and offered up to the world. It couldn’t be found on Dell’s website, though. The initial notice of availability was given via George’s personal website. He also noted that it was most definitely a beta product and had all the baggage that the tag brought with it.

George recalled how in a typical week his blog would average 1,500 hits a day. When the XPS development station was mentioned views skyrocketed to a peak over several weeks of 9,000 views a day. Not epic, but a good start.

Requests for beta testers (who had to commit to purchasing their own units – this was no freebie) rolled in left, right and centre, eventually totalling over 6,000 requests to be included in the program, which quickly proved that the idea of Linux on Dell laptops had a viable and, importantly, profitable future.

Internally, word got around about this cool new project that was going on. In typical geek fashion people started to donate time and resources for free (well, on Dell’s dime technically but no one was counting). A few lucky individuals, including Dominguez, were permanently borrowed for third line Linux server support, never to return as bigger endeavours beckoned.

Power users and developers know that RAM is king when trying to develop and perform debugging. While the Gen 1 XPS was all good, the screen was a bit small for some and the amount of RAM that could be installed was a little limiting.

One of Dominguez’s first off-the-hip moves was to get a larger, more powerful Developers Edition laptop for those they had courted earlier that same year. An M3800 notebook got the Linux makeover for those developers that wanted performance over size. Fortunately, both machines shared the same peripherals, trackpads etc.

Just as things seemed to be coming together the project narrowly avoided a near-fatal cancellation. No one saw it coming but in late 2012 Dell was looking to save money as times were proving hard after the global recession of 2008. Everyone and every project was fair game to be scaled down or closed to help the bottom line. The Linux on laptops project, just weeks from release, was a plump and juicy target for some and George and Dominguez weren’t even sure if the project would ever see the commercial light of day.

They carried on anyway, half expecting to be told to stop, the dream is over. Sleepless nights plagued the project. Luckily, the team dodged the cost-cutting bullet but as Dominguez reflected on the feeling at the time: “If anything it was a call to get this puppy out the door as quickly as possible.”

From Dell’s point of view it was a high-risk, high-reward scenario: a market with no other big players and ripe for the taking. There still had to be accountability in terms of costs and deliverables, however: “Our original idea of having several configurations per device wasn’t feasible so we narrowed it down to just one device with one configuration to streamline our focus,” explained George. “Slowly but surely we’ve been able to build out our portfolio and are now pleased to offer four different Precision models.”

This meant a slowly but surely approach with limited but well-configured systems available, as multiple configurations cost development time, money and resources.

Project Sputnik

Around the same time as the project was gathering momentum a chance meeting with Mark Shuttleworth – who happened to be in the Dell offices discussing Ubuntu – spawned Project Sputnik, a collaboration with Canonical to create a Linux Ultrabook running Ubuntu.

The project was so named due to the fact that Shuttleworth was the second-ever private space visitor. It’s perhaps not common knowledge that when Shuttleworth went into space it was actually on a Soyuz platform. However, Soyuz just doesn’t sound as sexy as Sputnik. Ego played its part and the name stuck adding a certain ‘cool’ vibe to the burgeoning Linux on Dell project.

Building alliances with the right people was key to getting the project out there and people talking about it. As FOSS people know marketing money talks and there usually isn’t much of that in open source.

On a more positive note, Project Sputnik gave the Linux team at Dell a way to get their message out. They ended up working the conference circuit alongside Ubuntu and getting speaker spots at FOSSCONN and other Libre software events. The project was gaining exposure by this point and the dream of an out-of-the-box Linux laptop that ‘just worked’ was becoming a reality. The project’s exposure also made it much harder for Dell to change its mind.

This back story also laid the foundations for the expansion of the Dell Linux laptop range. While still not the company’s bread and butter, it’s obvious the people at Dell have worked hard and there is now a whole micro-site dedicated to Linux laptops including developer laptops, education laptops and mainstream laptops. Purchasers are no longer required to spend more than the cost of a comparative MacBook to get a solid out-of-the-box Linux experience.

The latest range of Dell laptops are based on Kaby Lake CPUs and thankfully now come with several configurable options such as storage and RAM, which is a far cry from the original Gen 1 model and its one configuration. US buyers even get a choice of colours other than laptop grey and black.

Dell’s support for Linux is also now more solidified. Support is provided for the latest LTS (Long Term Support) release of Ubuntu, which is currently 16.04 and supported until 2021.

From the outset, the Linux mission was a project of the people by the people. George was at pains to stress that wherever possible they strongly encourage and persuade the vendors they work with to not only support Linux but to open source the drivers where possible, so that non-Dell users and organisations can also benefit.

Open source drivers have, as we all know, been probably the biggest issue for Linux users. The hope is that with Dell’s successful foray into Linux laptops, it will be able to encourage more component vendors to provide open source drivers with the prospect of a juicy financial carrot rather than a stick.

Not everything is perfect now, however. It doesn’t take much investigation to discover that lots of people have issues with the infamous trackpad on the XPS range. We asked the Linux team about this and it transpires that the issue stems from the fact that Dell deliberately decided to provide consistency across the range and ensure that Ubuntu Linux worked out-of-the-box across any model of Dell laptop.

There is actually a highly optimised driver for the XPS and the M3800 model specifically for Ubuntu but it needs to be enabled by the user. You must actually enable the Cypress touchpad to get a more refined, precision touchpad that Microsoft Windows users get. It’s in the settings now and the issue was fixed in kernel release 3.1.9.

First-class Linux

One thing we were really keen to know was how the project was perceived within Dell. In the past, Microsoft has had a somewhat contentious relationship with OEM vendors who have wished to provide alternative choices to Windows. Most OEMs wouldn’t dare defy Microsoft and jeopardise truckloads of marketing money and preload agreements with various antivirus companies, add-on software and games companies.

In fact, while researching Linux laptops we were even told directly by one very large vendor that they ‘Don’t do Linux laptops and never will because they don’t get the preload revenue from it’. More market share left for Dell. We’re sure Dell doesn’t mind one bit.

For the XPS Linux team at Dell this hasn’t been a huge issue, largely because to advance their cause the developers have learnt to be a little more savvy. The Linux team has held their own and avoided getting into any large-scale arguments with vested parties within the company – killing them with kindness essentially. In fact, ‘Do something and be truthful’ was one of the mantras the Linux team has held themselves to.

So who buys these top-end Linux laptops? Dell’s approach has been to hook the developers, which, in turn, has reeled in other tech-savvy users. In fact, the team say a lot of people are now buying Dell laptops, even with Windows on occasion, because it’s now known that Dell has an extremely compelling Linux offering that a user can investigate later, and even go down the dual-boot between Windows and Linux route, if they so wish: “In making these systems easily available and bundled with Dell ProSupport, we’re recognising that these are first-class users,” Dominguez told us. “It’s no longer just about Windows versus Linux.”

For Dell at least, that $40,000 (£32,000, AU$52,000) gamble has paid off and contributes a not insignificant amount of profit to Dell’s balance sheet. Surprisingly, however, no other manufacturer has attempted to enter this market in a serious way: “As we drive the Sputnik programme forward we will continue to solicit customer input to help steer our efforts,” George told us. “With regards to specific new technologies we will work with the respective vendors and Canonical to enable them for use with our developer systems and in turn the overall Linux ecosystem – our overall goal is to continue to provide a first class Linux-based developer laptop.”

Time will tell if other mainstream manufacturers will follow Dell into the premium Linux laptop market. One thing is for certain – if they do, they will have a hard time trying to find individuals, like George and Dominguez, who believe in what they are doing and have the aptitude and belief to carry it out.

      

Top Tech Conferences: The Ultimate B2B Tech Events Guide 2017

Love it or loathe it, events and conferences are often where wheelers and dealers in the world of technology meet to decide on the future of the industry.

Ironically, technology itself has accelerate the demise of some massive tech events (like Comdex) but the remaining ones are more focused, alive and bustling than ever before.

Techradar Pro and ITProPortal have joined forces with the tech B2B PR industry to curate a list of national and international technology events, conferences and happenings, focusing on B2B.

Featured: Mobile World Congress 2017

MWC is a B2B event for anyone and everyone in mobile and those in adjacent industries who want to discover how mobile technology can benefit their industries. In short, anyone in business will find relevant learning and networking opportunities to make the trip to Barcelona worthwhile.

Why attend? CEOs from AT&T, Kaspersky, KT, Niantic, Nokia and Telefónica and Vivendi to speak.

QuickBooks Connect London

March 6th-7th 2017, London, UK

Bring your future into focus at QuickBooks Connect. Learn from influential advisors, network with peers, and immerse yourself in interactive workshops — all designed to put you on the fast track to growth.

Why attend? Energising speakers, business connections, and eye-opening workshop

Ignite 2017 (formerly the B2B Summit)

June 22nd, London, UK

On 22 June 2017, the B2B Summit will become B2B Marketing Ignite: the biggest, boldest and most inspiring event ever staged in B2B. In one trailblazing day, Ignite 2017 will champion marketing innovation, hold up a torch for the best in our business and inspire every B2B marketer who attends

Why attend? Headline keynote speakers, 50 sessions to choose from, great networking opportunities

Citrix Summit

January 8-10 2018, Anaheim, USA

Citrix Summit is the essential business development conference for partners. Partners who attend gain firsthand insight into Citrix strategy for digital business transformation through intensive technical, sales and business training that delivers the tools to strengthen relationships, take advantage of market opportunities and pave the way for new deals.

Why attend? Microsoft’ Cloud supremo, Scott Guthrie, will be speaking there.

MVNOs Networking Congress 2017

November 2017, London, UK

The 2016’s edition of the event focused on the challenges and opportunities for the European market. It attracted the full spectrum of MVNOs in Europe with over 50% of the audience made up from first time attendees.

Key topics included the regulatory landscape in Europe, the challenges and opportunities from network consolidation, winning in saturated markets, monetizing emerging technologies as well as many more.

Why attend? At 2016’s event 70% of attendees were C-level.

Smart Home Summit 2017

November 2017, Silicon Valley, USA

Smart Home Summit brings together leading decision makers looking to take the smart home from a niche prospect for the tech savvy consumer into a mass market reality through collaboration and partnerships. Download the brochure to find out more about who will attend, topics being covered, speakers and other features taking place.

Why attend? 80% of attendees are Director level or above

LTE Voice Summit 2017

October 2017, London, UK

Virtualization is the biggest industry game-changer of the past 20+ years, and operators are debating and best-practice sharing in order to ascertain the benefits it will bring their networks and services.Voice virtualization poses numerous complex decisions and there is no clear route as yet…top experts spoke at the Voice Virtualization Summit, allowing attendees to ascertain how their business will proceed in this brave new virtualized era for the industry.

Why attend? Attract high level speakers, including Bryn Jones- CTO of Three UK

IP Expo Europe 2017

October 4th-5th, London, UK

It’s the ONLY enterprise IT event that brings everything together under one roof. All the key players. All the information across the entire technology stack. All the key product launches, demos, solutions and educational seminars.

Why attend? More than 300 free educational seminars

CeBIT 2018

March 20th-24th, Hannover, Germany

CeBIT is THE platform for experts and top decision-makers from all areas of digital business along the B2B value chain. The global market is present here – make sure you are, too! CeBIT is one of the world’s most important investment platforms for digital business processes. No other place can boast as many IT decision-makers and managers at the same time – or with such a strong focus on SMEs.

Why attend? The largest event for IT Decision Makers

Infosecurity 2017

June 6th-8th, London, UK

Infosecurity Europe is the region’s number one information security event featuring Europe’s largest and most comprehensive conference program and over 360 exhibitors showcasing the most relevant information security solutions and products to 13,500 visitors.

Why attend? 270 expert speakers and 360 leading security exhibitors

      

Top 10 best Usenet services of 2017

You might think, given that most ISPs no longer provide direct access to it and the majority of the free providers online have disappeared, that the venerable Usenet service has died a death. But that’s not entirely true; there are still many active discussion areas in the bigger groups.

But let’s be realistic: the real reason to lean towards Usenet in the current age is for file sharing – the groups below alt.binaries.* are very active, carrying many downloadable files of all kinds. But to gain access to the large amount of Usenet bandwidth you’ll need in order to collect these files, you’ll have to pay.

The key if you’re looking at binary newsgroups is, due to Usenet’s distributed server architecture, in finding a provider whose servers are fast, and who retains copies of binary files uploaded to Usenet for as long as possible. Here’s our breakdown of the best providers, and a couple of wildcards for those still interested in the talky side of Usenet.

  • Also check out our

    GigaNews

    GigaNews is amongst the most expensive Usenet providers, but its price reflects the sum of its parts. Alongside access to newsgroups – naturally – a $24.99 (£19.30) per month Diamond subscription gets you the use of GigaNews’ own Mimo Usenet browser and search engine, SSL access to its servers, and the pro version of Golden Frog’s multi-faceted VyprVPN service. Whatever you’re using it for – and even if you’re doing something else online entirely – the extra layer of privacy offered by a quality VPN has to be reassuring.

    GigaNews’ server availability is another plus, with multiple redundancy on US and EU servers owned and run by the company itself, and over 2,350 days retention of files. The real question, however, is whether you plan to use all of the features GigaNews offers. If you’re looking to Usenet access for the conversations this is absolutely overkill, and for binary downloads it’s still rather expensive.

    Price: From $4.99 (£3.85) per month

    2. Altopia

    Now over 20 years old, Altopia is probably the longest-running uncensored Usenet provider in the world. That is, indeed, its main selling point: Altopia was created after its founder, working as a system administrator at a university, was ordered to prevent student access to groups of a controversial nature, a move he considered ‘silly and unacademic’. With this in mind Seattle-based Altopia will do everything it can to keep your communications unmonitored and unaltered, though it does of course operate within the confines of the law.

    While Altopia doesn’t offer the deepest retention – at the time of writing it stores 550 days of text posts, single binaries and sub-15-part binaries, and just 9 days of binaries consisting of over 15 parts – it does offer the simplest subscription packages. Everyone gets unlimited speeds, unlimited transfers and SSL connectivity, the only variable is the number of simultaneous connections. $6 (£4.60) per month gets you two, and that rises to $18 (£13.90) for 20.

    Price: From $6 (£4.60) per month

    3. Astraweb

    Astraweb is another of Usenet’s big mainstays, having run since 1998. Sign up and you’re actually gaining access to two distinct services – its download servers in the US and the Netherlands are run as separate companies, and one server may contain files that the other does not. Essentially Astraweb gives you a main server and a backup server for the price of one.

    Users have reported that its quality has declined over the years. Whether or not you believe this is up to you, but Astraweb’s longevity in the market does earn it some brownie points, and it does not resell its services meaning you should see a consistent download rate from its servers.

    Retention is one of the highest we’ve seen at over 2,900 days, with a claimed 99% availability. Seeing as the 1% that’s missing could be the one critical part of a binary you need, Astraweb – even with its dual servers – is probably best used with a block account on hand.

    Price: From $10 (£7.70) per month

    4. BlockNews

    Block accounts are, depending on your Usenet provider, potentially something of a necessity. They’re a lot like unlimited accounts, but instead offer limited transfer rates, meaning they’re not supposed to be used as the primary method of downloading but as a backup.

    Plug the credentials of your block account into your newsgroup download package as a backup and, if your main provider is missing a part of a binary file, it’ll download it from there instead. Each provider tends to remove a different component of a binary when asked, so the chances are your download will complete.

    BlockNews’ promise to offer non-expiring accounts is a key selling point. You may never need to use its facilities, but small-volume accounts are cheap enough (from $2.75/£2.12 for 5GB) that they’re a reasonable backup, and everything is SSL secured and there’s a 2,600 day retention. You could, in theory, pick up a larger volume account and use it as your main download source, but if you tend to collect a lot of binaries the costs could add up fast.

    Price: From $2.75 (£2.12) for 5GB

    5. NewsDemon

    Resellers are quite common in the Usenet world, and for good reason: by purchasing a large amount of bandwidth from a major service provider, they can negotiate better terms and sell on that access to you for a vastly discounted rate. One of the biggest providers to resellers is HighWinds, which counts nearly 30 clients operating from its vast server backbone.

    HighWinds reseller NewsDemon is our pick of the bunch, offering 50 simultaneous connections and unlimited SSL-secured transfers from European and US servers for an entirely reasonable £9.17 ($11.80) per month – or perhaps less, we’ve seen different prices listed during different visits. There are also block accounts available.

    There’s the bonus of a VPN connection if you’re willing to spend a bit more, or transfer-capped block accounts for a little less. If you’re employed in education, charitable work, or certain media outlets NewsDemon will even offer you free access – though in the interests of disclosure we should be clear that we’ve not taken advantage of this offer.

    Price: From £1.80 ($2.30) for 10GB

    6. Usenet.Farm

    Dutch company Usenet.Farm is a relative newcomer to the scene, but it’s making waves with its structure and policies. On the first count, the company runs its own servers with around 60 days retention – not outrageously impressive, but if Usenet.Farm doesn’t have the part of a file you’re looking for it’ll try to find it on Highwinds’ backend, and then on the XSNews backend. This improves the possibility of getting a complete binary, particularly a recently uploaded one.

    On the second count, you can sign up for a Usenet.Farm account giving no personal information other than your name, or even skip this step if you use Bitcoin to pay. It offers 50-connection unlimited accounts (€7.95/£6.85/$8.90 per month), block accounts, SSL connectivity, and the ability to upload your own Usenet posts on both types of account.

    At the time of writing, there’s even an innovative summer sale running, with a percentage discount based on the temperature in Amsterdam – sign up on a hot day and you could bag yourself a bargain.

    Price: From €4.95 (£4.25, $5.50) per month

    7. UsenetBucket

    Highly recommended by much of the Usenet community, UsenetBucket is a reseller based off the XSNews backend running from the Netherlands. If offers around 1,100 days retention which, compared to some, sounds rather pathetic – but that’s about three years’ worth of files. We’d wager you’ll be able to count the number of times you’ll try to download something beyond a week old on one hand anyway.

    There’s SSL access, and a few options in terms of packages. The €12.95 (£11.20, $14.50) per month Ultimate Bucket account offers unlimited traffic and 50 simultaneous connections at a maximum speed of 400 Mbit/sec and is great to use as a primary account.

    On the other hand, the 10 Mbit/sec, 25-connection Basic Bucket – which definitely isn’t something you’d buy at KFC, and which still offers unlimited traffic – is perfect as a backup account at just €2.95 (£2.55, $3.30) per month.

    Price: From €2.95 (£2.55, $3.30) per month

    8. Google Groups

    Best used for historical research more than anything else, Google Groups holds a vast, searchable archive of text posts from the early days of Usenet and what appears to be very little from the more recent past. Its retention seems to be rather variable, with huge gaps in certain groups but others are well-served.

    Perhaps, though, an archive is where Google Groups is best placed anyway. The text portion of Usenet, marred by the obvious difficulty there is in now accessing it and the fact that more effective communication tech is now available for free on the web, sputtered to something of a halt around a decade ago.

    Don’t misunderstand: there are still active groups, particularly for niche subjects that have long stationed themselves there. But most are full of spam and trolls. Realistically you’re better off heading to Reddit or similar sites if you’re looking for likeminded, moderated discussion.

    Price: Free

    9. XS4All Newszilla

    Another text-only provider, but one available for free and without subscription, Dutch provider XS4All – a name you may recognise from the web’s early days – offers free connection to text based newsgroups for anyone with the appropriate software. Just plug in the server’s address and port (newszilla.xs4all.nl, port 113) to a package like Opera Mail, and you can browse groups, download headers, and read and post messages.

    If you want binaries you’ll be out of luck here. There’s no SSL so your traffic will be unencrypted, which means you’ll need to be on your best behaviour. Retention is unstated, and there’s no telling what will be done with your usage data. Paranoid individuals look elsewhere. But – for an experimental tool useful to browse text groups the way it’s supposed to be done, XS4All has given us a great gift with Newszilla.

    Price: Free

    10. NZBMegasearcH

    We’re going to finish this list with a service-aggregator of sorts. If you’re hunting for something on Usenet, the best way to find it – and pretty much the only way, to be realistic – is to make use of an NZB indexer. These scour the headers of Usenet posts to collect all necessary parts of the binary files you’re looking for. They tend to exist rather fleetingly – they’re so flimsy that we’re not even going to recommend a particular search source in this article because it may already be gone by the time you read this.

    While most NZB indexers make use of the same backend software, differing server sources and indexing protocols mean they can turn up some very different results. NZBMegasearcH (that capital H is a correct, if annoying, part of its name) is installable software, and it doesn’t discriminate – if you have access to an NZB search engine you can add your credentials and search multiple sources for the files you need.

    Price: Free

          

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