Some alternatives to the Cisco VPN client

This content is 15 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

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:

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.

Shrew Soft VPN client logoI 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. NCP Secure Communications logoIn 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 £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.

9 thoughts on “Some alternatives to the Cisco VPN client

  1. @Matthew – thanks for that information. I’m still using 2.1.5 beta, which was current when I wrote this, and has an import/export function but I’m not sure it reads the profile file that my admins provided.

    (FWIW, Shrew Soft has been rock solid for me on Windows 7 x64.)

  2. We are using the Cisco VPN client to access the campus network. The Cisco Mac VPN client works like a charm, whereas the AnyConnect Client for Windows is probably the worst piece of software ever written :-(
    We are in a desperate search for an alterative.
    The Shrew Soft VPN Client looks promising…

    Good luck

  3. When purchasing a new laptop. I would always open box and immediately format to 32bit Win7, however, just tried the latest Shrewsoft VPN client and connected like a charm on the default (aka bloatware) 64bit install. Thanks for this article looks like i’ll be sticking to 64bit finally!

  4. Tried and liked the ShrewSoft client – simple, fast, cheap, reliable. However, we needed connect before login (and single sign-on was a wish as well)
    NCP did it all – imported our configuration, and connected after making only a single change to the wizard-guided install process. In short, not reading any documents, not messing around, it was up and connected in 5 minutes, AND does a great job of connect before Windows login – needed for domains, login scripts, etc.
    If Shrewsoft did start before login, and single sign-on, it would have been a great choice as well – I was impressed with the speed and simplicity, but being government – they want solid official support from a single source that allows phone support.

  5. Windows 8 is with us, and I have had to revisit this. I had managed to get the Cisco client to work on 64-bit Windows 7, but no dice with Windows 8.

    Shrew Soft VPN client drops the connection too easily for me (it can’t stay up for the duration of an SVN update). I’m trying NCP Secure Entry for the trial period with some reluctance, but it looks solid. I resent paying as much for the VPN client as the OS itself, when Linux and Mac is so easy to get a solid VPN connection with native tools, but perhaps this is is part of the expected cost of upgrading to Windows 8.

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