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Norton Identity Safe stores your logins in the cloud: the poor man's 1Password

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This week, security software provider Symantec released Norton Identity Safe, a service that promises similar functionality to 1Password for free. We gave it a try, and found it's not all it was cracked up to be.

Norton Identity Safe
Norton Identity Safe

1Password is a fantastic cross-platform app that stores, locks and quickly retrieves your logins and personal information. With it, you can access password-protected websites with a single click, and store an encrypted copy of your passwords in Dropbox to access them on the go or with companion apps and browser extensions. One potential downside: 1Password costs $50. This week, security software provider Symantec released Norton Identity Safe, a service that promises the same basic functionality for free. As we quickly discovered, though, you get what you pay for here.

As far as functionality is concerned, Norton Identity Safe does a basic job reasonably well: we tested on both Mac OS X and Windows 7, and found that either way we could automatically add passwords to our "vault," and auto-fill the password fields of websites that we'd stored there. Since Norton hosts the password data itself, there's no need for a Dropbox account either, though you will need two passwords to get anything done: one to access Norton's cloud service, and one to actually get your passwords, which feels a little redundant. They can't both be the same password, in case you're wondering, and the software's limited to website logins, private notes and contact information at the moment — there's no way to store your credit cards or other wallet item information here.

While the OS X version is fairly demure, with a Menu Bar app that accesses your OS X Keychain to autofill passwords (after you manually turn that feature of your browser on), the Windows version is a confusing, piecemeal combination of three different UIs. When you launch Identity Safe, it triggers Internet Explorer to go to Norton's website to log in, and then you use the toolbar to go about your business, but if you want to create new password items, it launches an instance of the desktop app. The toolbar also doubles as an internet security tool, checking to see if websites are on Norton's safe list. It's messy and confusing. Worse are the mobile apps: you want to use your passwords on your phone, Norton has apps for both Android and iOS, but they're not the repositories of data you'd expect: rather, they're no-frills replacements for your mobile browser, slow and light on features, and it feels like you have to let Norton dictate your web browsing choices in exchange for password storage and retrieval.

Compared to the elegant 1Password, the Norton software feels antiquated and obtuse, and there's good reason for that: the Identity Safe toolbar's actually been around for years as part of the company's desktop internet security package. Even free, it doesn't feel like a compelling offering, and Symantec's website actually suggests the company may start charging for the service in October of this year. Competition is a great thing, and Identity Safe does work, but at this rate we wonder if the best thing that could come out of this competition is a reduced price for 1Password.

Update: We originally had trouble getting Identity Safe to work with Chrome and Firefox, but the app installed its toolbar in both (at least on Windows) after a full system restart.