A bold statement in the title, I know. The password & software license manager as well as form filler though is one of the apps that no Mac user should lack. It not only helps to drastically improve security, it gives you peace of mind knowing that even though you might forget your password or misplace a software license, 1Password has the information stored away safely.
I had planned to write this review for quite some time now. Ironically enough, the most recent Mac OSX updates (10.6.2 + whatever else was released in the last 7 days) completely nuked my iMac (45 minutes booting time and app crashes wherever you clicked). After the clean re-install of Snow Leopard, I had to set up all my apps again. 1Password proved absolutely priceless in that situation and allowed me to finish setting up my iMac in a fraction of time it would have taken otherwise (yes, I had a Time Machine backup and no, I could not use it since it reintroduced the errors).
With that happening just one day ago, you can bet that I got down and dirty with 1Password. In the following article, I’ll be laying out what the app does, how you can even maximize its usefulness and how it can help you to ease your workflows.
So, what does it do?
In all honesty, I asked myself the same thing when I got a license of 1Password in 2008 through the MacHeist Giving Tree. ‘A password manager, big deal’, I thought. In short: it stores away the passwords to every online login (if you permit it) and when you visit the site the next time, you can have 1Password fill the login with your username and the password. No need for you to remember anything or type anything.
Like many of you, I didn’t feel comfortable storing away my passwords in another app that was so tightly integrated into a browser. Security was a prime concern, but I realized that I was fooling myself: I had the same password or slight variations of it for virtually all my email accounts, online memberships and what else. There were just too many to remember different logins and I was too lazy to type long passwords all the time. And hey, really, who can remember something like ‘GKoh1%$nRFT12$)/’?? (if you are not a genius, that is) So, maybe, it was worth giving that app a try?
Couldn’t I just do with a list on my computer, then?
‘course you could. Do you? I guess for most of you, the answer is no. Some may have tried it, but it’s cumbersome and after a while, you grow tired of all the copy & pasting, of having to hunt down the list every time you want to log in somewhere. 1Password sits in your browser (Safari, Firefox, …) and with just two clicks, you can log into every online account that 1Password has saved the login data for. You don’t need to remember your username or password. You can even forget it. 1Password won’t. That beats your list. Hands down.
Option 1: iPhone
If you are still not convinced enough to give up your ‘list’ approach or to give 1Password a try, here’s another reason it will rock your world: if you are traveling a fair bit, or at least use your iPhone and Mobile Safari, the iPhone App will provide you with the same benefits as the desktop app. Just sync the data wirelessly between the two and wherever you are, you have all your login information, software licenses and — if you chose to do so — banking information safely encrypted in your pocket. Normal version // Pro version (iTunes US links)
In case you are not really secure about storing this kind of information on your iPhone: there are two layers of security. One is the unlock code (above) and the second one is your master password, which can be of any length and strength. Only with both you’ll be able to access your data.
Option 2: Dropbox
Now, what if you travel a lot with a second Mac? Me, I have my iMac at home and when I am on the road (usually 1 week at a time per month), I have my Macbook. Of course, I need all my 1Password data with me and I need the most current file. I could just manually copy the data file. But there is a far more elegant solution: Dropbox. I simply put my 1Password keychain file on my secure Dropbox account and pointed the iMac desktop app there. When I am on the road, 1Password on the Macbook accesses the same file. This way, there is only one file and it is always up to date.
Disclaimer: Every one of you has to decide him– or herself it you regard Dropbox as secure enough to store this file there. It is encrypted (the file) and can only be opened with 1Password and your personal password, but still — it’s online storage and that can never be 100% safe. If you don’t trust it, you can still use the manual options, but Dropbox has worked perfectly for me so far.
Ok, I’m intrigued. How does it work?
Simply enough. Install 1Password and allow it to add itself to your browser (no, it won’t work with IE. Don’t. Even. Consider. Asking.). Navigate to whatever site you want to log in to — your Wordpress blog, a forum, Amazon, eBay … you name it. Enter your user name and password into the fields provided by the website and then click to confirm. 1Password automatically detects that you are logging in somewhere and asks you if it should save that username+password combination. It offers you the option to name the combination (‘Wordpress Login Admin’ or ‘Twitter Private’, for example) so it will be easier for you to identify. The next time you want to log in, just click on the 1Password icon in your browser and let it fill in the information for you. That’s it. No kidding.
As mentioned above, most of us are not terribly creative when coming up with passwords and when we do, they are often not as safe as we would like to think. 1Password offers a solution for that as well. It’s called ‘Strong Password Generator’ and it does what the name implies: according to the presets (which you can determine) it will generate a safe password and fill that in for you. By now, almost all my passwords are generated by the desktop app and yes, now I really need it because without it I could not log into 99% of my accounts.
Sorting, Stacking, Filing, Retrieving
So far, I’ve been talking about the magic that 1Password works right within your browser. But since I have mentioned it’s a desktop app, let’s take a look at that too. Since the new version 3, Agile WebSolutions have polished the user interface quite a bit and you will only be able to access your data after entering your personal password (you will be prompted to set up one during the first run of the app).
In the main window, you can select whether you want to have a look at your online passwords, software licenses, identities, notes or bank information (wallet). You can sort logins into folders and when you select one, you can have 1Password open it directly in your browser.
If you are quite active concerning commenting on other people’s sites or if you need your personal information often, you can store those in an ‘identity’. You can create as many as you like (one for work, one for private stuff,…) and then have 1Password just fill the fields on a site by picking that identity.
Apart from all this goodness, the new version of 1Password (v3) also allows to store software licenses. Yes — one app for all your stuff: banking, online identities, passwords and now even software licenses. Keeping track of your stuff has never been so easy. And when needing to re-install your computer (see beginning of article *cough*), it’s all handy in one place. No need to wade through your email wasteland and search for licenses, trying to remember the software company’s name etc. Simply click on your name or email and the serial to copy it into the clipboard and paste it then into the application. You can even attach license files, which are being stored within 1Password.
Click on the image for a larger view.
Whew, you made it down here! Thanks for reading all of it. I hope I could show you the value of 1Password and how it can make your digital life a helluva lot easier. Never again worry about losing software licenses, forgetting passwords or being tired of entering the same information over and over again.
Is it worth the money? — Yes, definitely! I bought a full license early in 2009 when 1Password was updated, but the free license from the Giving Tree was not eligible. I have come to rely heavily on 1Password and it’s — next to iTunes and Mail — probably the app I use most on my Mac.
In a recent discussion on a German Mac forum, the question was raised if the app wasn’t too expensive. The user wrote that there was not enough freeware and apps for €10 or less. Summing up my lengthy response: considering the amount of time saved by not having to enter everything manually or looking up information, considering the increase in security by actually having long, difficult and different passwords, considering the ease of mind knowing you can forget without worry … considering all of this, I think the app is a bargain.
Also, check out the video tutorials on the official website for more information (really, you’ve come this far and you still don’t have enough?).
This review was neither sponsored (I wish) nor did I get anything from the company. Just one happy user here.