Password management is not exactly the most exciting subject in the world. Yet, when you really need that one password for some arcane ancestry site you found last year, a password manager can be a major help. Agile Web Solutions’ 1Password 3 is one of the best password management tools I’ve used. Several robust and powerful features make it nearly indispensible. Yet, at the end of the day, what I liked most was that 1Password did not change our daily computing habits all that much.
Security pros say it’s best to use a different password for every login you use as a precaution against hacking. So, for example, it’s wise to use a unique password for Facebook, a unique password for Yahoo Mail, etc. Unfortunately, it can be really hard to remember all of these logins and securely keep track of them.
1Password does an excellent job of staying out of the way. When you do register for a new site, or fill out a form at Amazon.com to buy a product, or fill in a serial number for an online app, the program pops up in an unassuming way and prompts you to name the entry and save the information. Then, when you go back to that site or want to use the saved data again, it’s easy to retrieve.
The program watches carefully for opportunities to save passwords. For example, I use a music streaming service (it’s one that is only for music reviewers called PlayMPE) and 1Password noticed I was logging in, popped up a dialog box to save the password, and then went away.
1Password also watches for and saves local logins, such as those for your Mail username and password, file sharing (to access a network drive or the files stored on another computer), and back-up tools. You can save credit card information in a secure identity that you re-use by selecting the card number from a drop-down menu in Safari (there is no default option for card numbers, though.) For example, you can create an identity for PayPal that stores all of your account info. When you go online to make a purchase with PayPal, 1Password can provide all of the information you need for the transaction.
The 1Password interface looks like a bank vault—there’s one main master password screen when you first start the program. Folders on the left hold your account info. There are also categories for creating and storing secure notes you make to yourself (“remember to hire a private detective”), software license information including serial numbers, and a wallet for storing credit cards and bank info. You can also drag and drop applications into the vault to save the license info. However, the app is most useful from the Web, where you can save and re-use most of the passwords and stored information.
1Password worked fine with Safari and Firefox. Past versions of 1Password required a plug-in to work with Google Chrome, but with version 3.5, the software supports Chrome out of the box.
One exceptionally cool feature is called 1Passwordanywhere. Essentially, it means you can upload the master file to an online service like Dropbox.com, and then view the file online. You don’t even need to app installed, so it works with Linux and Windows computers. (This works because the master file contains the Web formatting required to view passwords, serial numbers, and any other data.) There’s also an iPhone and iPod touch version of the app for mobile password management.
Speaking of 1Password's multi-platform support, a little bit on how licensing works. If you use 1Password on different platforms (Mac, Windows, iOS), you need one license per user per platform. You can then use Dropbox to sync your 1Password keychain across the different platforms.
There are a few small nits about the program, though. One slight glitch I found is that if you have a stored password, and want to change it, the program seems to keep assuming you want to use the old password until you go into the vault and make the change. I'd prefer a way to do that in an easier way. Another slight issue (I think Agile would call this a feature) is that there is absolutely no way to recover your master password if you forget it. I’d prefer some incredibly secure online storage system where you could recover it. And finally, I wish there was a small business version where a company can use an app on a server to store all the logins and passwords for everything employees do online—that way, you can make back-ups of that master file.
Macworld’s buying advice
Overall, 1Password Pro 3 worked exactly as expected. When you don't want to think about password management (which is often), the program runs silently in the background. It prompts you only when you need it to save login info. When you want to dive into the saved logins, or retrieve a long lost PayPal login, it provided exactly the right data in a clean interface. Highly recommended.
[John Brandon is a former IT pro; he tweets at twitter.com/jmbrandonbb.]