Hola is open VPN that gives access to restricted content, such as geo-restricted content or that blocked by governments, companies or ISPs. But it also bundles some very interesting innovations with it: namely, a scripting language open for use by the community, and the ambitious goal of making your internet 10 times faster. It purports to do this through a combination of technologies, most notably a peer-to-peer network that can accelerate your internet as more and more people use it by using idle resources on remote computers to compress data.
But the fact that it not only provides AD FREE unlimited free VPN, but does it everywhere (in your desktop, browser, AND Android) makes this a winner.
While previously VPN was a program you installed on your PC (think Tunnelbear or HotSpotShield), Hola comes in many guises: a desktop app, browser extensions, as well as an Android app (although the latter is somewhat less straightforward to operate than the others). Here’s a little information on each.
Hola browser extension: unblocks in real time
Hola in the browser is designed as a very easy an immediate way to unblock geo-restricted sites such as Hulu or BBC iPlayer in countries where they are not supported, automatically and inside the browser. It is similar to previously mentioned Media Hint (although I am only guessing that both work more or less in the same way). It will not accelerate your internet and is generally low involvement; you can easily activate and deactivate it’s unblocking action.
Hola desktop app: unblocks content AND accelerates your internet
The desktop version will provide a more holistic VPN that can be used with desktop apps (such as Spotify for example), but it is also designed to monitor your PC and, if idle, will utilize its unused resources to compress data for other users of the service, and contribute towards giving them a faster internet. Be aware that while it will NOT be active when you are actually using your machine, it will use up some internet bandwidth when you are not, so consider this if you pay your ISP for bandwidth quotas or don’t have unlimited bandwidth
Note that there are a combination of ways that Hola uses to accelerate your internet, including caching, identifying multiple sources for videos and other methods. But the real innovation here seems to be the crowdsourcing of internet access and compression, such that the more people use the service the more effective it would be.
Hola Android: unblocks content AND accelerates your internet
The Android app DOES NOT require rooting for Android 4.0 and above, and is designed to allow blocked web content and accelerate your internet.
It can also give access to apps blocked in your geographic region; however, you will have to (a) use ‘always use VPN mode’ (from the settings), and (b) search and install your desired apps via the browser, rather than Google Play (see the screenshots below, which illustrate this process).
Otherwise if you must have Google Play access to geo-restricted apps, use Tunnelbear (instructions here).
For advanced users, Hola allows scripting, which is to say the ability to configure the VPN to re-route requests to certain, user defined URLs through Hola proxies (and then to share them with others). In other words, if there is a certain website that is inaccessible an advanced user can figure out a ‘solution’ for it and share it with other Hola users. More on scripting Hola here.
Hola has four-fold appeal: unlimited VPN, Ad-free, scriptable, and available on desktop, browser and mobile. And for this it gets our highest accolade.
Update on USAGE: we recommend using Hola for access to content, but not for secure transactions. It may be similar to a public proxy in the way it works, so if it is security you are looking for, look elsewhere (see Kevin’s comment below for more on this).
Aside from VPN, the other functionality, that of speeding up the internet, is more difficult to come to grips with in terms of it’s effectiveness in actually speeding up the internet and in terms of the cost to your device in resources and bandwidth (if that is a concern). Still, the fact that you can decide to opt out of the speedup function (and opt out of sharing your resources) is good, although you may be opting out of the most exciting/innovative part of this technology.
Let us know what you think about Hola in the comments section below.