Microsoft pushes biometrics to consumers


9 Sep 2004

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PARIS – Microsoft is to introduce fingerprint-reading devices to ordinary PC users who wish to avoid password fatigue online. In what the company describes as its largest rollout of hardware products in one go – including 13 different fingerprint scanners, optical wireless computer mice and new ergonomic keyboards – Microsoft has recommended its new fingerprint technology as a convenience solution as opposed to a technology solution.

By simply pressing a thumb or forefinger on the scanners, which are either separate or included on some of the new keyboard products, users surfing a specific website no longer have to remember or to type specific passwords to gain entry to the site as the fields are automatically populated by the necessary usernames, passwords and any other information required.

The fingerprint device comes in three products: Optical Desktop keyboard with Fingerprint Reader, Wireless intelliMouse Explorer with Fingerprint Reader and the stand-alone Microsoft Fingerprint Reader.

“Keeping track of usernames and passwords is a real frustration for people,” says Roger Kay, vice president of client computing at IDC. “Although using a combination of methods, including using a strong password, is recommended for retrieving personal and financial information from the web, a biometric password manager clearly makes opening ordinary password-protected web pages more convenient.”

All fingerprint readers being introduced by Microsoft operate on Windows and use a standard USB connection. Consumers can use the reader to log onto favourite websites with a touch of a particular finger, or switch users on the PC quickly and easily.

Microsoft is positioning the technology as a convenience tool rather than recommending it for high-end security uses such as accessing personal bank accounts. For example, Microsoft estimates that 75pc of home PCs are shared by one or more users and fingerprint readers enable individuals to have their particular settings immediately called up. In this way, concerned parents can ensure their children aren’t accessing inappropriate sites online or putting the PC to inappropriate use.

Jean-Philippe Courtois, CEO of Microsoft EMEA, told journalists that the rollout of the new devices is a response to consumers’ desire to take the complexity out of the use of technology in their lives. “People want to be unique in how they communicate, interact and the way they use technology in their lives. By introducing devices that deliver easier and more enjoyable ways to access information we are striving to enrich the users’ experiences.”

“Basically the new range of products offer consumers a respite from complexity,” explained Matt Barlow, Microsoft Hardware Group’s worldwide director of marketing and business development.

Abid Saifee, keyboard product line manager at Microsoft Hardware, emphasised again that the biometric technology is being introduced solely as a convenience mechanism and should not be considered a high end security tool. “It’s positioned for people who are tired of inputting passwords and who sometimes forget their passwords. These devices are for convenience, not for added security,” he said.

By John Kennedy