I installed Dropbox on all my Windows computers and one of my work computers.  They each have a directory (C:\My Dropbox).  When I add a file to this directory on any of these computers, all the other computers see it.  Likewise, of course, when I change a file in this directory the change is quickly reflected to all the other computers.  As I mentioned in an update to an earlier blog entry (http://sbqsam.com/wpblog/?p=20, at the bottom) I’ve been using the dropbox directory to hold my encrypted password file.  It is excellent for this purpose.

Recently a couple of my kids have shared photos with me using Dropbox, see https://www.dropbox.com/help/19.  I got a piece of email that said they wanted to share, I clicked on a link in the email and a folder with pictures appears in my Dropbox folder and the pictures began downloading into that folder.  It was effortless.  Too bad dropbox isn’t coordinated with Facebook photo upload.

I just finished upgrading my daughter’s laptop from Windows Vista to 7.   I had these suprises along the way:

1. I purchased the upgrade from Microsoft directly.  I bought three upgrades to Windows 7 Home Premium, one for each of my kids with a laptop running Vista.  There’s a phone number at the top of the order web page that I called with the question, “can you upgrade Windows Vista Business to Windows 7 Home?  Answer I received: yes.   Real answer: no, see below. [I was pleasantly suprised when I got this answer, but see below]

2. When I got sticker shock at the $360 price tag the guy offered me a 10% discount if I’d finish the purchase during that phone call.  So I did.  He also sold me Microsoft Office 2007 “home and student edition” (Word, Excel, Power Point)  that I could install on 3 machines for $80 total.  [pleasantly suprised by the office deal]

3. I purchased the downloadable package (I’ve got Verizon FIOS at home: 10Mbit/sec down), even though I have to download each Windows upgrade separately. [naively surprised that I could purchase a download -- these were Christmas presents and it was 12/23 when I was making the purchase]

4. The Windows 7 Home upgrade  is 2.24GB.  Whoa!  The download progress bar was incredibly messed up, telling me I was 60% done when I had downloaded a little over 100 MB.   Once the download is complete, you are supposed to press the Install button.  This unpacks (aka “unboxes”, the equivalent of unzip) the downloaded file  into a directory on the disk.  I opened up this download area to take a look (good thing — see below).  The top level unpacked directory contains a “setup” file.  [no suprises here]

5. On my daughter’s Vista Business machine I kicked off the upgrade to 7 Home Premium.  After working a while it told me upgrading from Vista Business to 7 Home was not supported.  My choice: upgrade to Windows 7 Professional or wipe the disk, install Windows 7 Home Premium and re-install all software.  I called Microsoft sales and they verified and then refunded two of my Home Premium purchases and sold me a Home Professional upgrade and a Home Ultimate upgrade (one of my boys has Vista Ultimate on his laptop).  They were kind enough to throw in the 10% discount on these, but still it was $70 + $90 = $160 more than I originally thought I was paying.  [very unpleasantly surprised]

6. I had to download Windows 7 Professional (2.24GB) and start over.  It chugged a long time and then told me I had to have 12.789 GB of disk space free to do the upgrade.  My daughter’s laptop only had 6 GB free at that point.  I downloaded the excellent WinDirStat utility so I could figure out what was occupying the space.   I got rid of the 2.24GB download file as it had been “unboxed” during installation after the download.  WinDirStat revealed that Vista was occupying abot 45% of her 60GB disk.  Wow.  I eventually copied about 3 GB of digital photos to one of my computers on the network, then deleted them from her laptop to get the required disk space. [unpleasantly suprised so much disk space is required to do the upgrade, unpleasantly surprised that Vista occupied so much of the disk]

7. Restarted the Windows 7 upgrade.  I guessed that double-clicking the above-mentioned setup.exe was the way to restart, and indeed, that worked fine.  This chugged for a while then threw up the interesting message that yes, the upgrader begrudgingly admitted that the laptop now had enough space, but the Windows 7 experience would be greatly enhanced if there were at least 4 more GB free.  I clicked “next” and it was off to the races and I was off to bed.  I woke up about 2-1/2 hours later and checked on it — it was still working [pleasantly suprised that it was working while I was sleeping and that it supressed the normal powerdown-when-idle nature of the laptop]

8. When I woke up the next morning, the upgrade was complete.  The laptop had powered down.  When I powered it up it immediately asked for the registration number.  I typed it in and it booted Windows 7.  I logged in as my daughter and it bought up about 8 command windows really fast, then they all disappeared and there was just one window telling me to restart again.  That was the last restart I had to do.  My daughter is now enjoying Windows 7.  [pleasantly suprised that it had almost totally finished while I was sleeping]

9. After the upgrade completed, there was 25 GB of free disk space!   Yes, twenty five gigabytes.  I guess that means she’ll have a optimal Windows 7 user experience.  I copied the photos back onto her disk.  [Very pleasantly surprised]

Next I’ll be upgrading my son’s Vista Ultimate laptop.   If anything weird happens there, I’ll update this blog.

I’ve been maintaining all my website logins and passwords in an encrypted text file that I access with Vi (aka Vim, http://www.vim.org/).  I’ve been doing this for years.  The problem is I use four different computers to access the internet.  Each computer has its own copy of this text file and these copies are diverging.  It takes too much energy to keep these files in sync, so I’ve stopped trying.  I occasionally come to a web site on which I believe I’ve registered, but the login credentials are not in the password file on that computer.  So I have to look on the other computers, if they are nearby.  Looking can include powering on a laptop and waiting for it to boot up, assuming I can find where the boys left it last.  It’s a pain.  Alternatively, I can have the site go through it’s password reset sequence send me a new password.  Of course this means the password I previously recorded in the password-file-I-can’t-locate will now be wrong.   I can record the new password in the local computer’s password file.  At some point in the future I’ll have to reconcile the two passwords and figure out which one is actually correct.  Whee.  What fun.

I’ve had it.  So I’m looking for an on-the-web solution.  No matter what computer I’m on, as long as it is connected to the internet, I can easily access my password repository.  The solution will hopefully automate filling in my credentials when I get to a login page so I can skip the step of editing my password file and copying my credentials to the login boxes.

mashedlife, LastPass, and clipperz are password management (and more) applications.  zumodrive gives you a disk drive in the cloud that every computer can share.

mashedlife

http://www.mashedlife.com

Totally web-based.  No downloads or installations.  Mashedlife has a dashboard containing all the sites (accounts) you’ve registered.  As far as I can tell you must explicitly regsiter each site.  Registration of a site takes a few steps, including hand entering the URL, userid, and password into the registration form.  Mashedlife provides a Bookmark Login bookmark you must put in each browser (it works in Chrome).  When you navigate to a web site for which you’ve registered, all you do is click the bookmark and it logs you in.  Most of the time.  It doesn’t work for Ameritrade (http://www.tdameritrade.com) or First Tech Credit Union (https://online.firsttechcu.com).  I could not find any way to communicate these failures to whoever is supporting mashedlife.

Cons: The dashboard uses up way too much screen space per entry.  Adding notes, for example to describe additional security questions/answers, makes these entries take up even more space.

LastPass

http://lastpass.com (The last password you’ll have to remember)

To setup LastPass you must download and execute a program on your pc.   It will install toolbars in IE and Firefox.  I do not see a way to make it work with Chrome (fixed, see update 12/26, below).  Installation offers to show a one-minute video, make sure and watch it.

LastPass watches your web interactions.  If it thinks you are logging into a site it will prompt you right after you’ve logged in asking if you want it to remember the password.  This behaviour is very similiar to the browser asking if you want it to remember the password.   Next time you navigate to the login page, LastPass will fill in the credentials so all you do is click the button to enter.   You can even configure LastPass to supply credentials and click the button, but I did not try this.

LastPass does not work for First Tech Credit Union (https://online.firsttechcu.com) in Firefox (3.5.5) or in IE (8.06001.18702).  I logged in to the site and LastPass never prompted me to ask if I wanted to remember the password .  LastPass has a process to deal with sites like this (see the video “Auto-login into Complex Websites”), but it did not work.   I submitted this URL to LastPass through their support link.

clipperz

http://www.clipperz.com

Totally web-based.  clipperz, like mashedlife, uses a bookmark (called a bookmarklet) named “add to clipperz” to register web sites (clipperz calls each registration a card).  You have to install the bookmark  in your browser.  I only saw IE and Firefox instructions, nothing for Chrome.

My first attempt was to create a login for Microsoft’s hotmail account.  I typed in my credentials then instead of clicking the sign on button, I clicked my new add to clipperz bookmarklet, which popped up instructions.  I followed them and created my first card (type:  direct login).  I clicked on the card and it logged me in.  I created a card for my gmail account the same way.  Likewise, when I clicked on the newly created gmail card, it logged me in.  I signed out of gmail and back in clipperz.

Problems with clipperz.  I clicked on the hotmail link.  It did not log me in as I expected.  It took me to the Hotmail login page with my Windows live ID filled in, but the password was not there and there was an error message: The e-mail address or password is incorrect, please try again. So I clicked on the clipperz card again, with the same result.  Then I tried clicking on the gmail card. Same result: username filled in, no password, and I’m not logged in.  This was all in Firefox.

Thinking this may be an interaction between password managers, I switched from desktop One to desktop Two, a computer on which I had not yet used  any of these password managers.  I got the same result in Firefox (3.5.5).  I decided to try IE (8.0.6001.18702).  The results were basically the same, I tried both the gmail and hotmail cards, and neither worked.  After clicking the gmail card I would occasionally get this odd message about cookies being disabled:

Problem when using clipperz card to direct login to Gmail.

Problem when using clipperz card to direct login to Gmail.

If I logged in to Gmail by hand it worked fine.  I was able to save a card for mail.yahoo.com and successfully log me in there time after time.  The cards for gmail, hotmail, and yahoo mail look about the same to me.  They each have the correct password.  Still on this new computer, I tried deleting the gmail card and recreating it.  Now it started working.  I did the same with the Hotmail direct login, it also started working.  I tried all three cards a few times and they worked.  I went back to desktop One where I had the problems and the cards worked fine there also.  Startup issue?  Both desktops are running Windows XP.

At this point I put everything aside and went out for a few hours.  When I got back I decided to continue on my laptop so I could be in the same room where my wife is decorating our Christmas tree.  I logged into clipperz for the first time on the laptop and tried all three direct login cards.  Gmail and Hotmail did not work, Yahoo mail did.  I tried both Firefox and IE with the same result.  The laptop is running Windows Vista.

I am abandoning clipperz for the time being, it does not seem ready for prime time to me.

Use Notes for additional security questions
In the last year or two, more sites are requiring that you have verification (aka secret) questions and answers in addition to login credentials, e.g., what was your first pet’s name? LastPass and mashedlife have a notes section where you can record the questions and answers you registered.

Final Decision: LastPass

LastPass feels more mature. They have a process for submitting URLs that do not work, although I have yet to see what happens as a result of these submissions.  I cannot find any support link on the mashedlife web page.  The LastPass dashboard seems more well thought out.  The entries are way tighter, I can get many more per screen.  When I enter security questions in the Notes of LastPass, it doesn’t affect the dashboard display.

LastPass has the easiest automation for adding a new account to the repository.  mashedlife is the most difficult of the three.

I like that mashedlife supports Chrome (see update 12/26, below).  I think I can tolerate the lack of Chrome support since I mainly use Firefox as my main browser.  I can still login to the LastPass site in Chrome and see all my username/password info.

I like that mashedlife doesn’t require installation of anything on my PC.  This doesn’t seem like a big issue at the moment, but if I have to upgrade four computers very often for lastpass, I will definitely revisit this decision.

Zumodrive

http://www.zumodrive.com/

Zumodrive offers a cloud-based disk.  “up to 2 GB of space for free,” you can pay for more.  As I said at the outset, I have four encrypted text password files on four computers.  I just found out about the zumo drive a few days ago (see this).  After installing zumo drive on all four computers I uploaded each encrypted text file to the zumo drive.  So now I can see all 4 text files from all 4 computers.  This zumo drive is very nice.

I could have solved my diverging password files with zumo drive.  But now that I’ve tried LastPass, clipperz, and mashedlife, I would like to get their one-click login working if I can.  Even with the zumo drive, there is non-trivial overhead with having to open up a text file, search for the URL, and copy your credentials to the login boxes.  I can always fall back on zumo drive if none of these solutions pan out.

-Sam

update 12/26/2009: One of the tech sites I follow (sorry, don’t remember which one) had a pointer to 10 must-have Chrome extensions.  Lastpass was among the 10 and many comments after the article mentioned Lastpass.  Reading about these extensions revealed (to me) that Google just released Chrome Beta Channel that supports extensions and apparently Lastpass required this functionality.  I’ve downloaded the beta Chrome and installed the Lastpass extension and it is working.

Here’s the link to the Lastpass extension for Google Chrome:  https://chrome.google.com/extensions/detail/hdokiejnpimakedhajhdlcegeplioahd

Security: storing your passwords on someone else’s web site.

(Added 12/26/2009) I was describing Lastpass to my 24-year old son and he said, “You are storing your logins and passwords on some else’s web site?  That does not sound like a good idea to me.”  Me either.  Lastpass encrypts your information prior to storing it on their website.  See this discussion.   They un-encrypt the data after getting it from their web site.  This encrypting and un-encrypting happens on your computer, not their’s.

Bottom line: the only way someone can see your real username and password data, which is stored encrypted on Lastpass’s site, is if they know your password.  Since your Lastpass password is the last password you are going to have to remember, make it a good one.  Throw in a digit or two, a special character, and an upper case letter.

update 5/24/2010: About two months ago I stumbled across Dropbox, a technology similiar, but better, than zumo drive.  The main problem I have with zumo drive is on my work laptop.  I put it in hibernate between work and home.   When I bring it out of hibernate I seem to lose the zumo drive.  This does not happen to Dropbox.