As Christina mentioned a while ago, 1Password version 3 is on the horizon, and we've got some sneak peeks to show you. There are some great improvements to the core, but more immediately noticeable are the visual tweaks to the interface. The entire UI has been overhauled, and I'm impressed. Take a look at the gallery to see for yourself. Oh, and check the end of the post if you missed out on the private beta but want to play with version 3 on your machine!

Haven't heard of 1Password? It's a form-filling, password-storing, iPhone-syncing, highly-secure information storage system. It handles software licenses, secure notes, credit cards and, of course, passwords. It can generate impossible-to-crack passwords on-the-fly, and then remember them for you. All you have to remember is, that's right, one password. Get it?

Read on for a quick walkthrough of new 1Password features, and a little trick to get your hands on it early ...

Version 3 adds tagging support on items within its database. Some of you may roll your eyes, but this is definitely a case where a tagging system can make more sense than a rigid folder structure. To each their own, though. Tag folders are automatically created in the sidebar when you add a new tag. In my experience that gets awkward if you have any decent number of tags, but the search feature should take care of that.

My favorite UI tweak is the addition of login thumbnails. 1Password will create an icon for each login, and a thumbnail that gets "clipped" to its full view. The icon generation is impressively intelligent, using favicons if they exist, and then scanning down a list of possible elements to capture for the icon. Very nice. Generating the thumbnails can, as you'd expect, take a while (about 2.5 hours for my 1048 logins). I'm told that things like this will be very automated in the final release, but for right now you need to go to Help->Tools->Download Login Thumbs to get things started. You'll see a progress bar and icons begin appearing.

I noticed that the thumbnail storage was being handled in my Agile Keychain, which I had been told previously was one of the many reasons for the new format. The developers confirmed that 1Password 3 will require the Agile format, but converting is a simple click away in Preferences/Keychain.

1Password version 3 has been in private beta for a while now, and those who didn't get in may be getting antsy. Guess what? There's a backdoor to enable the new UI features, and TUAW is merrily handing out the key!

It started with an anonymous tip about a hidden Terminal command, and I contacted the developers to get their thoughts on the matter. They agreed that, since it would get out eventually, I could distribute this information -- with a few caveats.

First, anyone who chooses to play with this should know that they're not receiving support from the developers, and that Agile won't be accepting feature requests or bug reports from people not in the private beta. Second -- and I really think this should go without saying -- this is a beta, so back up your data before diving in. Beyond that, have a blast. Here's the command, just quit 1Password, paste it into Terminal and press enter, then when you relaunch you'll have the version 3 feature set:

defaults write com.1passwd DevFeaturesUI 1

1Password 3 will require Leopard or Snow Leopard. Fair warning: as noted in Christina's earlier post on the matter, this next version will -- unless you bought yours after February 1, 2009 -- be a paid upgrade (even for semi-illicit beta testers). We're not sure how much yet, but don't let that stop you from having fun right now!

This article was originally published on Tuaw.