Installing Cisco’s VPN client on Windows 7 requires a bit of hacking and I found it increasingly unreliable on my connection to my company’s corporate network. It’s also a 32-bit only solution and, thanks to comments left on this blog, I’ve been trying out a couple of alternatives on my 64-bit Windows 7 release candidate (build 7100) machine, namely:
- NCP Secure Entry Client for Windows (v9.12 Build 34 – beta).
- Shrew Soft VPN Client for Windows (v2.1.5-beta-5).
This isn’t really a review as such, but it is a short summary of what I found. Please bear in mind that I’m an end user of the Cisco VPN infrastructure and not a network administrator – those who know more than me about this stuff may have their reasons not to consider one of these two clients.
I installed the Shrew Soft client first and then found that I couldn’t connect to my VPN server. That was no fault of the software – it was just that the .PCF file I had for the VPN connection contained an encrypted password, which I needed to track down, and the current version of the Shrew Soft client can not import these files. In the meantime I decided to use the NCP client for a 30 day trial period. This installed without a hitch, was able to use the PCF file provided by my administrators and had me connected to the corporate network pretty quickly. It also made me reconsider whether my frequent disconnects with the Cisco client really were down to my ISP as it seemed far more reliable than the Cisco client had been on Windows Vista/Server 2008/7… and there’s not much more to say… it worked for a month, it nagged me to activate it as the trial period came to a close, then I uninstalled it. The uninstall failed but after a restart (and a few German error messages), a second attempt was more successful.
The NCP Secure Entry client does the job but it costs Â£80 (+VAT) and, at the end of the day, if I need to convince my budget holder that I need to spend money on a VPN client (whilst the majority of my colleagues manage with 32-bit XP systems and the Cisco client) then I figured it was worth taking a second look at the Shrew Soft VPN client. This time I was armed with the password for the VPN group and, following Shrewsoft’s Cisco PIX Howto, I was able to connect to my corporate network. It seems just as reliable as the NCP client and has the advantage of being free (so no business case or other such hurdles to jump through).
So, Shrew Soft it is, at least for the time being – but if you have an aging Cisco VPN infrastructure that’s not due for replacement for a while and you need a client that runs on all versions of Windows, as well as Windows Mobile and Symbian, then the NCP Secure Entry client is worth a look. On the other hand, if you have a heterogeneous network, the Shrew Soft VPN client is also available for Linux and BSD (I haven’t tried using that). Some companies love open source software – others are nervous of it, so really it is just horses for courses but both are an improvement on a Cisco VPN client that doesn’t work with modern operating systems.