Let’s say you’re trying to take over the world and bring all governments under your control. You have to keep records of all this stuff on your computer, of course. Now what if your plan is almost foiled because you chose a stupid password like the Egyptian variant of your Greek name? That’s not very smart, is it? You may be the World’s Smartest Man, but you may still want to look into password management software for your Mac to help you choose good, strong passwords and keep them organized.
In my business, I need to keep track of logins for clients as well as for my own use. I keep all my client information in Daylite forms or notes, where it’s linked to all the other information about that client. But what if you just want to keep passwords secure? And what if you want to share those passwords between machines? Or what if you want your password manager to integrate into your web browser? Or keep that info with you on your iPhone? Well then, here are five password management solutions for the Mac that may work for you.
I have been avoiding using a password management app for a long time. I guess I was a little suspicious of them, or reluctant to trust one app with all that info. I bought 1Password last year, and now I’m a total convert. The desktop app integrates directly into Safari and Firefox, as well as other browsers like Camino and apps like NetNewsWire. The plug-ins help you to capture login information as you enter it, or generate strong passwords as you create logins online. You can also quickly fill out logins and other forms with personal information like your address and/or credit card information that you store in 1Password. This integration with Safari and Firefox is what has me sold on 1Password. It’s so easy to use that I don’t notice it and I love that I don’t have to leave the browser to pull up my passwords like I do with the other solutions.
You can sync your password file between multiple Macs by using the Mac OS X Keychain and MobileMe syncing (not recommended) or by using file-based syncing with Agile Keychain format (recommended). Instructions for file-based syncing using a couple of solutions are provided on the Agile Web Solutions web site.
SplashID has been around a long time and is very well respected in Palm and Windows Mobile circles. The desktop app for the Mac provides password generation and syncing with the SplashID iPhone app. You can create items with custom fields and set the labels as you like. Several types are provided to group and organize items. You can launch web sites from within the app and it will auto-fill the form on the page (at least with Safari). It doesn’t capture login information from the browser like 1Password does.
While I was using it, I found myself missing the Safari and Firefox plugins from 1Password. The variety of items that you can store compares favorably, but I think the interface is a little rough. The iPhone app will sync with the desktop and includes a strong password generator. If you want to sync your info between your Mac and a Windows Mobile, BlackBerry or Symbian device, this is your only choice.
SplashID Desktop can compare entries between two password databases and sync the results to both copies.
Password Wallet works with your desktop and iPhone. The desktop interface is minimal and unobtrusive. Some may like the narrow window used to list items stored in the wallet file. You can also keep multiple wallet files, each with their own master password, if you have need for that feature. Clicking on a URL will open the page in the default browser and hover a window with auto-fill options over the browser. This works great for launching sites from within Password Wallet, but I still resent having to leave the browser to start that process. Seriously, once you’ve tried 1Password’s method on the desktop, there is no going back.
The Password Wallet iPhone app implements its own browser in the app to enable auto-fill. If you want to use Mobile Safari, you’ll have to switch back and forth.
The Password Wallet desktop app is $20 and the iPhone app is currently free.
Wallet is one of the most polished desktop apps on the Mac. The user interface is very accessible and will look familiar to anyone who has used Address Book on the Mac. It follows the same three-column layout with large “+” buttons at the bottom of the first two columns and an edit button below the third. You can create custom folders in the first column to group entries, but an entry can only belong in one group. You can use the notes to tag entries as the search bar will look in there along with other fields.
The desktop app will auto-fill login forms for your default browser if you launch the page from within Wallet. The iPhone app syncs with the desktop app through MobileMe. If you don’t have a MobileMe account, you are out of luck for Mac-to-Mac syncing. iPhone syncing can still be accomplished over Wi-Fi.
The Wallet desktop app is $20 and the iPhone app is $3.99.
KeePassX is an open-source GPL project that is available for Mac, Windows and Linux. There is no iPhone app and there is no integration with web browsers on the Mac. Still, the databases are compatible between different platforms so KeyPassX is a good solution if you need to copy your password database around for access from different systems. It’s also free, which could be a huge plus for some.
1Password is for Me
If you’ve been holding out for something like RoboForm on Windows, 1Password is as close as it gets — at least until RoboForm finally fills this Senior Mac Developer position they’ve had open for a while now.
For the next versions of these products, I would love to see a tagging feature so I can keep a taxonomy of tags for entries rather than just free-form notes. I would also like to to see a system where an entry can belong to multiple groups so I could file an entry under both a client name, a project, and a service provider, though tagging would accomplish the same thing.
What password management app do you use?