Windscribe VPN: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
When I wrote The VPN Myth half a year ago, I expressed my preference for Windscribe VPN, which includes features such as R.O.B.E.R.T., a customizable advanced DNS and IP level blocker that can be used against malware, ads+trackers, social networks, porn, gambling, fake news and clickbait, cryptominers. The same company also offers a separate free DNS. So, is Windscribe a winner, or not?
My case is not your case
As previously stated, I don’t believe in the VPN myth. Take a look at this crap from Windscribe’s site:
Why is this crap? Because the hackers can’t really steal your data while you use public WiFi!
All the websites and all the apps that require you to log in are using SSL/TLS/HTTPS, so nobody can steal your private information.
Then why is this crap still perpetrated, namely the idea that connecting to an open WiFi network is dangerous? I don’t know, but if there is something dangerous in using an open network, then it’s the fact that the hackers can attack you, and they can exploit your vulnerabilities! You see, when connected to your home’s or to your office’s WiFi, the router that connects the LAN to the Internet almost certainly has a firewall, and most such firewalls are smart enough to protect you of attacks coming from the Internet. When connected to an open network, you may never know what hacker is connected to the same network!
But I understand how some people want to hide from their ISP the websites they visit. In many Western countries, you’d also want to use a VPN for torrenting or other P2P situations that might breach the intellectual property laws. (Just don’t start talking of nonsensical spying directed to you for being in a country that’s part of the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, or 14 Eyes.) As I’m not into P2P for almost a decade now, my main needs for a VPN fall into these two categories:
- I need to pretend to be in another country, to access resources only available from within that country. While typically this is about streaming audio and video, it is NEVER about the United States and their Hulu, Netflix, and other similar crap. It’s usually about countries such as (alphabetically) BE, FR, IT, SE, UK. Also, for downloading from Zippyshare, I need not be in some Western countries, so pretending to be e.g. in RO or BG would do. Gutenberg used to be completely blocked in DE, so I needed to be elsewhere. Otherwise, not so much avoiding of censorship or of Gestapo-like practices.
- I need to change my IP quickly and repeatedly for downloading from sites that impose a one hour to 3-hr delay between subsequent downloads, unless you pay. One such site is 1fichier, but there are many others.
So what were my options?
For the last use case, that of changing my IP, a number of VPNs that offer limited service for free are useful, especially:
- ProtonVPN: free servers only in Japan, the Netherlands, the US, and with a pathetic speed. Useful at times, though.
- Windscribe: free servers in US, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Switzerland, UK, Turkey, Hong Kong, for a maximum of 10 GB traffic per month (per account, not per country). Everything else must be paid for.
For pretending that I’m in a specific country for streaming purposes, the main choices I considered were:
- NordVPN: they bribed most of the YouTube video stars and influencers to tell you how you can’t live without a subscription to their service. Their service is nonetheless quite good, but they’re too expensive, unless you opt for one of those “72% off for a 2-yr payment” offers. Otherwise, €10.59 for a single month is ridiculous. In the past, cheap shared accounts at ridiculously low prices (and that could be canceled without warning) were available e.g. on eBay, but now it’s very difficult to find such things (I’m not into the black market, not into the dark web, where I’m sure one could find anything and everything).
- ExpressVPN: the second-best in bribing, but also with a rather good service too, but also (what a surprise!) too expensive, unless… you know the drill. I want to be able to pay for a single month only, to check how well it unblocks the streaming in the countries that interest me, and I won’t pay €11.81 for a unique month! (Note how ridiculous they are, with a price converted from dollars; and they say they’d bill you in dollars, yet they won’t show their plans in dollars if you’re in Europe.) They do have an Android app for which a 7-day trial is possible, but the trial won’t work under Windows and Linux! (They might know that Android doesn’t allow sharing a VPN connection via the built-in Hotspot functionality, as it would only share the WiFi or the mobile connection!)
- Mullvad VPN: a niche VPN, so to speak, which has the decency of offering uniform prices. €5/month, no discounts, no automatic billing! I thought it will be my forever choice, especially as it works well in Linux too, until…
…until I discovered that, for a specific country, it doesn’t enable streaming from a certain television provider!
That was a huge blow to me. Everything said I “was” in that country, and yet not everyone agreed to treat me as being there! Are Mullvad’s servers banned by the respective organization? Then how come ExpressVPN’s still work? (I can’t tell about NordVPN.) I don’t know how the VPN providers fool e.g. Hulu, Netflix and other content providers, but some of them somehow manage to escape being banned.
I still have some subscription time left from my month with Mullvad VPN, but I had to find whether Windscribe can fix my issue, and whether I can go cheaper than $9/month (it’s out of the question to pay $49/year only to find out that their servers are banned for streaming!).
Windscribe: The Good
- YES, Windscribe can be used to pretend I am in the unspecified but specific country and to stream (or download) everything from there!
- YES, there is a way to pay as low as $2/mo if one’s only need is to have unlimited data for a specific country!
The trick is to use their “à la carte” (Build a Plan) option. The minimum is $2:
- Each added premium country is $1 per month and adds 10 GB on top of your allowed monthly traffic.
- Unlimited Data + R.O.B.E.R.T. adds $1 per month.
Therefore, for one unlimited traffic premium country (with premium servers and R.O.B.E.R.T.) the fee is $2/mo.
That fixed my issue, and it’s also cheap! To quickly switch the IP, I can also use the other, non-free countries, many of which have multiple servers.
As a bonus nicety, I really like the names they give to those servers!
Windscribe: The Bad, the Ugly, and the Fix
Back when I praised Windscribe, I tried it under Ubuntu MATE. Officially, Windscribe only uses a console script under Linux.
Fail #1: the RPM-installed script fails to connect under Fedora 35
You install it, and it fails to connect.
Fail #2: the solution to the above situation cannot be found on their website, but on Reddit
The “How-To” page for Linux couldn’t care less.
Reddit, 3 days ago: Any devs still here? Why doesn’t the latest Windscribe work on Fedora?
The solution to the script failure, posted on Reddit after originally having been revealed by Kraii on Windscribe’s Discord channel:
for people on fedora 34 and 35: open the file
and on line 35 edit
$(ip link show "$dev")
$(/usr/sbin/ip link show "$dev")
Now it works. But wait, there’s more!
Fail #3: there’s a GUI for Linux, but they don’t advertise it anywhere on the website!
From the same Reddit thread:
A. the cli is deprecated and will be replaced
B. there’s a new GUI based windscribe version for Fedora. It’s in beta. Here’s the link: https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/435963889327276042/898649484584702022/windscribe-2.3-11.x86_64.rpm
For updates however you’ll have to get them from the discord at https://discord.gg/vpn
That’s a TRIPLE failure!
- The website doesn’t say that the CLI will be replaced by a GUI, and it doesn’t offer the beta version of the GUI.
- The RPM can only be downloaded by a random Discord link, which requires you to trust such a link.
- Should you want to update that GUI app before it’s officially released, you’d have to subscribe to Winscribe’s Discord channel and find the update there, if there is one.
The security issue aside, who the fuck has time for Discord, and how does one search in Discord’s logs? I was never able to understand how Discord works, because it won’t let me post on any subscribed channel, and in the case of Windscribe, I can see many avatars, but no discussions, no links, no nothing. There are many projects that use Discord, which is a shit initially developed for gamers, and I will strongly assert that whoever relies on Discord for their commercial product is a complete moron! This doesn’t mean they should be using IRC; not in the 21st century! FORUMS, YOU SHITHEADS, FORUMS!
Fail #4: the GUI also needs a fix
What is the distro they have built that RPM for? You install it, and it doesn’t work! Maybe it assumes you’re running KDE, but most Fedora users are GNOME fans!
A quick investigation reveals that the missing lib is
libxkbcommon-x11.so.0, so the fix is simple under Fedora 35:
sudo yum install libxkbcommon-x11
Sorry, it works, but you should be loving the inspired name of Did Not Finish, so the official command should be:
sudo dnf install libxkbcommon-x11
Now it works!
Is it a keeper?
I don’t know, I hope so. Starting from $2/mo, Windscribe can offer a really satisfactory VPN solution. You don’t have to pay for 1-2 years in advance!
As for their multiple failures, I stopped requiring common sense from people. I know of many other projects and companies that mix the following:
- good or great software, good or great software developers
- stupid business decisions, stupid project management, stupid communication
- zero common sense
Sigh. Most software developers are simply idiots and assholes. I know them only too well.
BONUS for my readers: if you still don’t know about it, let me tell you about a site that is most likely infringing some laws in several countries: Pastylink.