ESSENTIALS: Software to improve your life - AnchorFree Hotspot Shield
It's going to be a while until Project Canvas arrives and that's assuming it doesn't it end up the same way as its predecessor, Kangaroo. Even when it does turn up, there's little chance we'll be able to watch absolutely everything that's aired on UK TV.
One of the main gaps in all our players over here is from the top end US comedies and dramas that the BBC and others simply don't have the rights to show on demand. If you happen to live in the States, then you can watch them all on Hulu and other services but access to these sites is blocked if you reside anywhere else - that is, unless you happen to be using a virtual private network or VPN.
- Hotspot Shield
- Windows & Mac
For those who've never used them before, the idea of a VPN is essentially that it hides your IP address, so that no one can tell where it is that you're computing from. There's a few different ways you can do that but what AnchorFree Hotspot Shield does is spoof users an IP that appears to come from somewhere inside the United States. What that means, of course, is that no matter where you are, US websites think you're in the US. So, now the rest of the world can kick back and watch Hulu too.
Of course, AnchorFree Hotspot Shield has other uses too, as touted on the AnchorFree site. You might want to hide your IP address if you're using a public network. Potentially you could get snoopers on the same connection trying to access the financial and personal details of those doing some online shopping or perhaps trying to listen in on VoIP calls you're making. You can imagine the kinds of interesting bits of industry talk one might be able to pick up in outlets of Starbucks in Silicon Valley.
So, certainly on the outside, AnchorFree markets this product for reasons of safety and security as well. For nine tenths of users though, it's going to be about accessing US content while not in the US, whether you're an American national abroad or, more likely, someone looking to watch episodes of South Park, Hung, 24 and such.
There are plenty of good VPNs out there but the double advantage of Hotspot Shield is that it's free and, for the moment at least, it works. It's simple enough to download and operate. Just head over to the AnchorFree site, choose from Windows or Mac and the small package of software will arrive on your desktop. Set up takes a minute or two and it's your choice whether you want it to load up automatically when you start your browser or not. We'd recommend not.
You can donate if you like the service but the payback for AnchorFree is that it adds a banner to the top of every singe web page you render. The downside is that it does take your speed down some and it does rather uglify your browsing experience but at least you can close the ad once loaded. Naturally, Hotspot Shield isn't going to be any good for accessing non-US copyright content, so those looking to watch BBC iPlayer will have to find themselves a VPN that offers a UK IP.
Of course, seeing as the connection is encrypted, one could also use a VPN like this to hide your IP for purposes of illegal downloading but, of course, we wouldn't possibly comment on that kind of behaviour. There's also good news for iPhone users as the AnchorFree has also released an app for the service as well.
So, give it a go. It won't cost you a penny and do let us know your thoughts. If you happen to use a better VPN out there, then do tell us which one it is.