Review Password Manager software for Windows iPhone iPad

Ok, so last month while I wrestled various systems back to operational status and updated passwords and access methods to a variety of sites, I started to review suitable Password Manager applications. For almost 30 years I have managed to run with all my system passwords in my head. That does not mean I have one password!  I just managed across the variety of clients and servers and sites to ‘know’ what the password was and I guess muscle repetition helped as I rarely changed passwords. So now, in this new age of identity theft, hacking, and compromise, I needed to get stronger passwords and change them regularly. The issue is how to remember them all and to a degree what do my family or work associates do for access if my tootsies point skywards at short notice?

So I went looking and got my criteria sorted as:

1. Able to create a simple server or similar record with server name, ip address, user, password and notes
2. Windows desktop app as my main tool with option for Mac as they exist in the family network
3. Sync with iPhone or iPad app without using a 3rd party system like Dropbox
4. Browser options for weblogins
5. Other features such as credit card and bank details seem to be the norm

And I found a number of tools that would potentially fill these apparently simple requirements.

How I arrived at the shortlist is in another post on Password Management for the iPhone, iPad, PC & Mac.

I then downloaded all the shortlisted Windows apps to start my review. Figuring that if the Windows app worked as described I would move on to the IOS apps later.

In terms of file size the installers or zip’s show as:

  • eWallet is a little over 10M
  • DataVault zipped at 9M
  • SpashWallet at 7M
  • 1Password at 5.3M
  • mSecure zipped at 3.2M
  • SafeWallet at 2.6M

What does this tell me?  Not a lot other than an indication of the volume of programming or redundant bloat that may be found.  So I installed them all and made some notes:

Safe Wallet

Conceptualises a Wallet instead of Category. Adding cards to a wallet is easy. I added a new template for Servers and created some cards. I then wanted to add a Notes field to the template, which I did, but it did not retrospectively apply to the existing ‘cards’.

Delete and recreate or simply add a new field to each of the 5 existing cards? Not sure what the implication is, i.e. is a field called Notes added directly to a card the same as a field called Notes added to the template for the same card? Apparently not, as adding a Notes field to an existing card and deleting the field from the template leaves the one directly added intact on the card. Not sure if this is good data management or a pain in maintaining consistency.

There is no apparent link to browser pages for the ones that you do save. You need to manually copy and paste (or simply retype) the username and password when accessing a site. By design that seems to be a pain. So I discounted Safe Wallet

Scrip was in my shortlist but the Windows side of this is only a sync process. So it is not relevant for my needs. They tell me that they are working on both a PC and Mac interface due in 2011.

eWallet during install, assumes that you want the app for a Windows Mobile so I unticked that. I also have no use for desktop icons so I unticked that as well.

First up it looks ok.  Everything is a card. Defaulting to General is not the best option. Can I default to another type ?

Tried to create a Servers template but the template creator only allows for basing a template on an existing template.  Which seems odd, but… So my simple servers style cards are not possible. It ends up with 20 or so fields per entry.
Took it off my short list, there are others that make this easier.

SplashWallet installs automatically with lots of icons on the Windows Desktop. I hate that!

What is worse is that the PDF link to the SplashID user Guide is broken. They have changed the app path without updating the installer. Not a good start.

There are apparently 4 different applications. SplashID is the one I looked at first and it is apparently function over form as there is no indication of a Windows Vista/7  iconised toolbar. It is very much a Windows 98 (for those that can recall that long ago) text menu.

Ok, so SplashNotes is not what I was reviewing. It is a note taker of some description. As I am reviewing password managers, this is not of interest today. Nor are SplashShopper or SplashMoney relevant.

So the installation of these peeves me even more. If I wanted to review these products I would go looking. If I wanted a trial of SpashWallet I expected a trial of that and not the bloat.

There is an IE plugin but not one for FF which makes it less helpful for a dedicated FF user. So I’ve dropped this one as well.

1Password

The first point to note is that the Desktop icon is disabled as default.  To me this is sensible.

At first use I think this app works a little easier. The main categories are around the type of passwords/info rather than categories that predominantly relate to who you are.

I must look at this from a category / class / template relationship.  There is no editing of templates (not that I found anyway) I think it addresses what I want in that I dont need to drill in levels to see the list of servers.

It does what it says with providing browser interfaces and recording website login details.

Bugger. It must use Dropbox for sync’ing. That just simply frustrates me. I have a huge investment in computers, wifi, etc, and to get a piece of data sync’d from my notebook to/from my iphone I cannot just use the cable on the desk in front of me, or the wifi that is all around. No, I have to store my valuable data on someone elses server somewhere out in the ether and send packets of data around the globe to sync between my own hardware. Stupid. Just plain stupid.

And, the response to a similar post in the 1Password forum was dealt with as “not likely, because the developers are happy with Dropbox process for Windows users. Mac Users have WiFi but not Windows.” I wanted to comment on this as well, but the admin has closed that post to restrict more complaints.

Look, in all honesty 1Password is a damn nice looking windows app. I did try using it and liked it but I just do not want to go outside my LAN for storage. If you are a Dropbox user already, this one may work for you.

mSecure

I opened it, added a new type of ‘servers’ added new server logins, used the web info and it seems to work smoothly. It is apparently not as feature rich as some others, but this is / should be a simple program and I think some of the others have over-engineered their solutions.

It does not automate browser support and manual intervention is required for username and password which is a shame.

Ascendo Datavault

(version 4.7.35 noted as there is an update released yesterday that I have not reviewed)

Install was easy with an unzip (I use 7-zip for zip and unzip, it is free open source = no nag screens) and run.

It wanted the browser closed to install an Add-on. I use Firefox as a default browser. I noted that the firefox graphics when used with a persona graphic look pixelated and crappy. It is due to the transparency being set on the images. It still works but looks better with the default grey background.

First impression is Ok. The layout is ok, the graphics ok. It all seems to work.

I started with a concern that not having +/- expand/collapse in the tree view is annoying. I later found the option to swap between +/- or folder icons, but the +/- by itself is bland. I think I’d like to see both as an option. Yes I know you can double-click but the +/- signs highlight this action and where there are no branches it is obvious.

In the +/- option the drag’n’drop of a Type section within a category makes the cursor disappear and it is pot-luck to drag it to a correct position. Update: This was confirmed as a bug and will be fixed in a future version.

I struggled for a while with category and type selection. When Adding a new item the right hand pane is the Edit pane and the selection boxes for Category and Type are hidden down below the Notes field. This requires that you scroll down to edit them and if you did not have a valid category/type selected then they will default to Unfiled/Unfiled.
Update: This is part of a discussion with Ascendo and may be changed in a future release.

Trying to test some more so I added a bunch of items and then wanted to delete. Using Shift and scroll to select highlighted them all except that I went two or three items too far down the list. Moving back up the list did not deselect the items selected in error. Using Ctrl-Alt or Shift-Click to deselect worked. Its a minor point but if a down arrow can select I’d like to see the up arrow deselect.

Data Vault automatically added a toolbar / add-on item to Google Chrome and Firefox (but not IE?) to enable recalling web page logins. I later found that it had installed in IE8 but I had to manually enable the Datavault Bar in Tools->Toolbars.

So how does it work? Pretty simple although the User Guide seems to make it complex. You go to a web login page  or form and you fill out the details for the login then simply click on the Datavault icon or menu tool to Save Form. Do this before you click Login or submit the form. Datavault will open and prompt for you to Save the new entry (or if the URL is already in the database Update the existing entry).  Once saved you can then return to the web page immediately or at any time, either by selecting Web Items from the Datavault browser menu or by hitting the hotlink in the Datavault entry itself.

There is an option to make Datavault login to web pages automatically but I left it as manual. So Datavault will get me to the page, fill in the fields and I have the task of clicking the login button. I figure that using it this way allows for me not selecting the correct page and potentially logging in somewhere for no purpose.

I have to note that having written my earlier post I was contacted by Marc from Ascendo and have had a number of email discussions that have addressed some of the niggles I had in the above. Marc was extremely helpful and Ascendo Datavault is the only product that addresses my criteria in full. Yes I found some bugs and discussed some ideas with Marc but in general it will do what I want.

Summary

So this leaves me with only 1 contender from my short-list and that is Ascendo Datavault.

Next week I’ll  be reviewing the IOS (iPhone, iPad, etc) apps that go with Ascendo and any others that I find that seem helpful.

 

One reply

  1. Ron says:

    Ascendo DataVault firefox add-on not showing on Firefox 4.0.

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