1Password X

September 6, 2019 • #

For a long time I’ve used the full 1Password desktop app and its browser plugin that installs alongside for support inside of Chrome. But recently I set up the 1Password X browser extension they first released a couple of years ago, and I’m converted. Since access to accounts is most useful in a web browser context, implementing it as an extension makes sense. I don’t know much about the tech backend or advantages of building a Chrome extension versus a “thick-client” browser plugin, but it seems like it’s certainly a benefit to conform to the browser’s best practice for building add-ons; and extensions are the way to go in Chrome. One of their big motivations here was deepening the cross-platform support since you can install Chrome (and Firefox) on so many OS platforms, including Linux.

The full features of the 1Password desktop app are available from within the extension — access to multiple vaults and all your accounts, editing and organizing your accounts, and creating new ones. In addition to the same handy integration for filling 2FA codes and their helpful password generator for new sites, X adds a built-in form filling utility, similar to the “autofill” capability that browsers have had for a long time, but with access to your 1Password account if you’ve got it unlocked. The feature even supports an inline generator and account creation wizard for when you’re signing up for new services, which in my experience is one of the biggest barriers to getting new users to understand and use 1Password: they don’t add new accounts they sign up for into their vault. Helping users make sure things are always added (and updated!) in their vault is one of the key steps to reaching the “wow” moment as a user. Once you’ve got a few dozen (or in my case hundreds) of entries set up and well-organized in your vault, it’s magical to never have to worry about losing access to accounts.

The one thing that’ll take getting used to is that you can’t unlock the vault with the Touch ID sensor on my MacBook Pro anymore using the X extension. It’s been surprising to me how much I must’ve relied on this, as well as the Cmd-\ shortcut to autofill. You never realize how baked-in a behavior is until you upset the routine! This should just be a muscle memory thing to get used to.

One of the things I admire about 1Password is that it’s clear their product team are all constant users of their own product. Every time I think of something that’d be slick, it seems they’ve already thought of it, or if not they eventually build it. And not only that, they’ll even go the extra mile and tie in keyboard shortcuts and all the other accoutrements that demonstrate that they themselves are power users of their product.

My appreciation for their effort doesn’t stop at the technology or product. From a business standpoint, I admire what they’ve been able to do with their pivot from desktop app to SaaS with their Business and Family plan offerings. Many app developers have made moves over the last few years toward subscription pricing, sometimes with mixed results. I’ve always been a fan of SaaS models for services I rely on — without continuous funding, how will they make their excellent product even better? It’s not just about changing the billing model from perpetual to recurring either; they’ve actually converted to a hosted service that offers something distinctly different than what a desktop app can do.