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Software essentials for working from home

software essentials
(Image credit: Unsplash)
Working from home product guides

This guide is one part of a series designed to help you get the most out of working from home. Our other guides:

1. Hardware essentials
2.
Office equipment
3.
Home office furniture

As we all face up to working from home on a more regular basis, it's prudent to equip a home office with devices that will help you perform your job to the best of your ability, and to furnish your surroundings in a way that will help make it not only a productive space, but also a pleasant one.

In this guide to working from home, we look at the software that's designed to maximise productivity with a secure system.

Looking for something specific? Try these quick links:

Cloud storage services
VPN
Video conferencing
Password manager
Antivirus

Best cloud storage services

cloud storage banner

(Image credit: Future / iDrive / pCloud / Zoolz)

The growth of online storage has seen cloud backup replace traditional on-premise hardware. Instead of the traditional "folder and file" storage system on a single computer, cloud storage distributes that data across one or more remote servers. This not only keeps data protected from hard drive failure and ransomware, it also means that it's accessible from anywhere and on any device - a vital function when employees work remotely.

To create this list of recommendations, we have researched more than 40 of the best cloud storage providers, selecting only the best providers, based on aspects such as capacity, price, file size, security and ease of use.

1. iDrive

Our pick for the best cloud storage service for businesses for all sizes

Specifications
Free tier: 5GB
Storage size: 5TB
Number of devices: Unlinted
Reasons to buy
+Fast and capacious+Easy to use+Good security
Reasons to avoid
-No two-factor authentication

iDrive offers continuous syncing of your files, even those on network drives. The web interface supports sharing files by email, Facebook and Twitter. Cautious or click-happy users will be pleased to hear that files deleted from your computer are not automatically deleted from the server, so there's less danger of removing something important by accident. 

Up to 30 previous versions of all files backed to your account are retained. Another thing to note is that IT admins have access to the iDrive Thin Client application, which allows them to backup/restore, manage settings, and more for all their connected computers via a centralized dashboard.

For photos, you have a neat facial recognition feature that helps you to automatically organize them as well as syncing them across all your linked devices. iDrive also offers iDrive Express which sends you a physical hard disk drive if you lose all your data, allowing for the swift restoration of all your backed up files. 

An enhanced version - aptly named iDrive Business - exists and offers priority support, single sign-on as well as unlimited users and server backup. While iDrive Personal offers 5TB or 10TB per user, their professional counterparts get between 250GB and 12.5TB of online storage.

EXCLUSIVE DEAL

EXCLUSIVE iDrive 5TB plan | $69.50 $3.48 for 1 year | 95% off
$69.50 may seem a bit expensive for a year's worth of cloud storage but $3.48 for a whole 12 months is ridiculously cheap. Not to mention 5TB should go a very long way in covering even the most demanding storage needs.
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Also worth considering

pCloud — best for a one-off payment
Get 2TB lifetime cloud storage for $350. At face value, you might think pCloud's offering is a little on the expensive side. However, a one-off payment will be cheaper in the long run, because you won't have to worry about increasing renewal fees. Plus, you can rest easy in the knowledge your data is secured by strong encryption and extensive redundancies.
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Zoolz Cloud Storage — best for security
Get 5TB cloud storage backup $49.95 per year. Zoolz is a powerful hybrid backup solution where you can combine cloud storage with on-site external storage for the best performance and security. Its entire infrastructure is built on top of AWS, so you can trust that it's secure.
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The best cloud storage services compared

Cloud serviceFree tierStorage capacityNumber of devicesPrice
iDrive5GB5TBUnlimited$3.48 (first year)
pCloud10GB2TB5$350 (one-off payment)
Zoolz1GB5TBUnlimited$49.95 per year

Best VPN providers

best vpn

(Image credit: Future / NordVPN / Surfshark / ExpressVPN)

VPN or a 'virtual private network' is software that increases online anonymity, encrypts your internet use, and effectively tricks your laptop or mobile device into thinking it's in another location. 

For many, a VPN service is all about privacy and security, to help keep your online life completely safe from hackers – especially now that so many of us are working from home. And for many business they are used as an additional layer of security, enabling employees access internal systems remotely. Whatever your use for a VPN is, you'll find the best options below.

ExpressVPN

The outight best VPN service you can get for speed, privacy and unblocking

Specifications
Works on: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux
24/7 support: Yes
Trial period: 30 Days
Number of servers: 3,000+
Reasons to buy
+Top marks across the board+Easy to run on almost any platform+Enterprise-level encryption
Reasons to avoid
-Fewer simultaneous connections than some

ExpressVPN  continues to sit at the top of our best VPN list. It impressed in every test we threw at it and the 5-star rating we've given it is testament to the fact it can barely be improved upon.

So let's get in to some specifics. It starts well right from the off, as you you'll immediately note that ExpressVPN gives you the choice of over 3,000 servers in 160 locations across 94 countries.

The service already used AES-256 encryption - just like the US government - and a choice of various other protocols (including IKEv2, OpenVPN and L2TP/IPsec) to keep your data safe. But perhaps most exciting is that it has now begun rolling out its very own Lightway protocol that seeks to increase speed and reliability even further.

But away from the numbers and specifications, it’s in our real-life testing where ExpressVPN really shines. For starters, it’s fast. Really fast, with fantastic connection speeds across servers in multiple countries. And that was using OpenVPN in our tests - the aforementioned Lightway option should increase that further still.

We also love just how easy to use this service is. That might seem obvious, but not every VPN provider out there has worked out how to make its tools intuitive, regardless of what device you're using it on. From desktop, to mobile, to TV streamers, ExpressVPN is a doddle to set up and operate for both pros and inexperienced users. 

Frankly, we don't mask the fact of how highly we rate ExpressVPN. It's very simple... it is THE best VPN you can get in virtually every scenario. Don't believe us? You can always take advantage of ExpressVPN’s quibble-free 30-day money back guarantee that you can use like a free trial – not that we imagine you’d need to use it.

SPECIAL OFFER

ExpressVPN — editor's choice special offer: Get our best overall VPN with 3 months FREE
Our #1 recommended VPN is the one we use ourselves: ExpressVPN. And the great news is that TechRadar readers get three extra months free when they sign up for an annual plan. Plus, you can also give it a try first with a 30-day money back guarantee.
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Other recommendations

NordVPN - 70% saving on 2-years plan - £3.71/month
NordVPN goes big on discounts with its long term plan. If you commit to Nord's excellent service for the next two years, it will slash 70% off the price, bringing things down to an effective $3.71 per month. And for Black Friday, you'll get an extra three months extra on top.
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Surfshark - great value VPN - $2.50/month
While Surfshark loses out to ExpressVPN and NordVPN when it comes to sheer all-round quality, security and support, Surfshark has bite when it comes to pricing. Subscribe to a longer plan and you can bring the monthly spend down to less than $2.50 USD - with three months extra FREE now.
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The best VPN services compared

Cloud serviceWorks on24/7 supportTrial periodServersDevices supportedPrice
ExpressVPNWindows, Mac, Android, iOS, LinuxYes30 days3,000+5$6.67 per month
Nord VPNWindows, Mac, Android, iOS, LinuxYes 30 days5,500+6$4.92 per month
SurfsharkWindows, Mac, Android, iOS, LinuxYes 30 days1,700+Unlimited$2.50 per month

Best video conferencing software

best video conferencing

(Image credit: Future / RingCentral / LogMeIn / Microsoft)

Video conferencing software makes it simple and easy to connect online with other people for online video calls and meetings. Advances in technology means that reliable video conferencing has become accessible and affordable, and can easily serve the modern workplace. This has become especially important during the current pandemic. Below, we've listed the best video conferencing solutions according to our testing.

GoToMeeting

Mobile-friendly video conferencing

Reasons to buy
+Mobile friendly+Good apps+VoIP upgrade
Reasons to avoid
-None

GoToMeeting is the standalone webconferencing service provided by LogMeIn. As expected it provides audio and video conferencing, as well as screensharing.

One of the features that sets GoToMeetings apart is its mobile friendliness - you can set up and start a conference from your smartphone, something some big brand software would struggle to do. There are also settings to maximise call and image quality, as well as one-tap invites to join meetings as well as chats.

Mobile apps are provided separately for Android and iOS, and both have high positive review volumes, which again makes a change from some other providers who struggle to balance quality and usability with mobile use.

In terms of pricing, almost all standard features are available with the most basic payment tier. Even the limit of 150 participants is generous, and for most businesses this is all that will be required.

A Business plan tier is available which increases the number of participants to 250 and includes a few admin features plus drawing tools and mouse sharing. An Enterprise plan is available to accommodate up to 3,000 participants.

However, while there are many good things to be said for GoToMeetings, if you're looking for a business VoIP solution then GoToConnect offers a cloud-based phone system which integrates GoToMeetings as part of the package, and it may be more cost-effective to sign up for that instead.

EDITOR'S CHOICE

GoToMeeting - Best overall video conferencing - $16/month/user
GoToMeeting is the standalone webconferencing service provided by LogMeIn. As expected it provides audio and video conferencing, as well as screensharing. the features that sets GoToMeetings apart is its mobile friendliness - you can set up and start a conference from your smartphone, something some big brand software would struggle to do. There are also settings to maximise call and image quality, as well as one-tap invites to join meetings as well as chats.
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Also consider:

RingCentral Meetings - top admin control - $14.99/month/user
RingCentral Meetings is a solid performer that offers high-quality video conferencing software for businesses. It is loaded with features, offers a high degree of administrator control, and is optimized to work on web browsers, minimizing the need for additional applications and software.
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Microsoft Teams - perfect for Office 365 users - $12.50./month/user
Within one application, Microsoft Teams enables users to schedule video or audio meetings with a single person or a team. Administrators can also organize webinars and large meetings with up to 10,000 participants. Overall, Microsoft Teams is ideal for businesses who already use Office 365, or who are looking to reinvent their organization’s digital communication and collaboration workspaces.
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The best password managers

password managers main

(Image credit: Future / Dashlane / Nord / RoboForm)

A great password manager can be a game-changer. Most of us have scores of online accounts, and it's all too easy to fall into the habit of reusing the same password for multiple sites. It might be convenient, but it also leaves us in real danger; if just one of those sites is compromised, all your accounts will be at risk. Choosing the best one is an important decision, so we've put all the best options to the test. Here are our recommendations.

Dashlane

Best overall password manager

Specifications
Browser plug-ins: Chrome, Firefox, Edge
Desktop apps: Windows, macOS
Mobile apps: iOS, Android
Reasons to buy
+Easy syncing between devices+Includes VPN+Secure document storage

SPECIAL OFFER: For a limited time, enjoy half off Dashlane Premium. Use the code CYBER20 at checkout, and join the millions using Dashlane to store and autofill your passwords.

Dashlane is a capable password manager for a single device, capable of storing logins for up to 50 accounts in a secure vault with multi-factor authentication, Like LastPass, it can do much more than just fill in passwords for you; it can also store all kinds of information and fill out forms with delivery addresses and contact details automatically.

So far so good, but Dashlane's premium service is even more impressive. Not only does it let you synchronize all your passwords across all your devices (both desktop and mobile), it also monitors the dark web for data breaches and sends you personalized alerts if any of your stored details appear in a batch of stolen data.

There's secure file storage too (ideal for scanned ID documents, insurance policies and receipts) and even a VPN for browsing the web more securely via Wi-Fi hotspots.

Unsurprisingly, all of this comes at a price, and Dashlane's premium plan is one of the most expensive options around, but the extra services (plus remote account access and priority support) do justify the cost. Note that Dashlane also has added new business features to its offering as of October 27.

Top three password managers

EDITOR'S CHOICE

Dashlane - the best password manager overall - $39.99/year/user (50% off with code CYBER20)
Dashlane is an advanced password manager with all the functionality you would expect from a market-leading brand: a free VPN, a one-click password importer and changer, dark web monitoring and encrypted cloud storage.

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Nordpass - great value - $2.49/month/user
NordPass is a highly capable password manager that does a little more than would be expected, and the further good news is that the missing autofill feature is apparently in development for a future release.
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RoboForm - great security features - $39.95 year/user
RoboForm is another versatile password manager, with plugins for all the major browsers and mobile apps for both iOS and Android. The free version is superb, providing you with a secure vault for your logins (though you also have the option of only storing your data on your device if you prefer), an auditing tool to help you identify weak or duplicated passwords, and a password generator for replacing them with strong, un-guessable combinations of numbers, letters and special characters.

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Best antivirus software

antivirus main

(Image credit: Future / Kaspersky / Symantec / Bitdefender)

If you’re looking for all-round protection against the latest cyber threats, then investing in the strongest software is the best solution you can hope for - and we also have the best business antivirus plans if you're looking to take care of your company computers. That doesn't mean you have to start spending big money either, as our recommendations show.

Bitdefender Antivirus

Loaded with features, giving you rock-solid protection - 2020's best antivirus

Specifications
Operating system: Windows and Mac
Maximum devices covered: 10
Stand out features: Safepay banking protection, privacy tools, web protection, VPN
Reasons to buy
+Excellent antivirus engine+Tons of features+Good value for money
Reasons to avoid
-Not the best in terms of resource usage

TechRadar's #1 rated antivirus in a world packed with loads of virus protection providers, and doesn't even have to cost that much more than free antivirus downloads.

If you peruse the rankings of the major independent testing labs, you’ll doubtless notice that Bitdefender inevitably appears towards the top. And for good reason – Bitdefender’s core antivirus engine is excellent, and we found in our testing that it delivers top-notch protection. Which is, of course, the main point of any antivirus product.

Although not the only consideration, by any means, and Bitdefender’s other main strength is that it positively bristles with features. Exactly how many features depends on which product you purchase, although even the entry-level Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2020 packs in a lot for the money.

That includes a very thorough web protection module (which offers class-leading protection from dangerous links), Safepay online banking protection, a password manager, as well as a vulnerability scanner which can alert you to missing security updates and patches.

As for downsides, about the only one really worth mentioning is that Bitdefender uses more system resources than some rival products.

If you want more features, Bitdefender Internet Security 2020 delivers exactly that, adding a firewall, spam filter, parental controls to keep your kids safe online, with measures to bolster privacy such as an anti-webcam hijacking feature.

Bitdefender Total Security 2020 is the ultimate package which further provides a suite of PC maintenance tools, and is capable of covering all types of devices, delivering apps for Android and iOS hardware, as well as Mac (and Windows) computers.

SPECIAL OFFER

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2020 - $59.99 $23.99 | 60% off
Not only is this one of the cheapest antivirus deals, it's coming from the world's best provider. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus comes with the added bonus of a VPN and Safepay as well as boasting multi-layer ransomware protection. This constantly tracks any malware and records the cyberthreat's pattern to keep you secure online.

You could also consider...

Norton - great protection that won't slow you down - $34.99
It's a name almost synonymous with the word 'antivirus', and Norton didn't disappoint when it came to our testing. It was notable how little an affect it had on the performance of our test computer. And it has a feature-list as long as your arm.
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Kaspersky - no-nonsense suite with top-notch security - $29.99 (50% off)
It may not have quite the feature set that the above providers offer, but Kaspersky really does the basics brilliantly. Its outright virus defence is airtight and we like that even its entry-level plan offers protection covering multiple devices.
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More working from home guides and deals

This guide is one part of a series designed to help you get the most out of working from home. Make working from home as comfortable and as productive as you can:

  1. Hardware essentials 
  2. Office equipment 
  3. Home office furniture