Thursday, August 16, 2007

A finger on the problem

For years people have told me fingerprint recognition hardware will be ubiquitous in notebooks, keyboards and mice in a year or so. Thanks to Roger I. Quint, CEO and CTO of software startup 123id, for explaining to me why this is not happening—a lack of standards.

Quint said his startup has some of the great software needed to read and match a fingerprint image quickly. But his company has to support about eight major fingerprint readers, each with its own way of capturing and reporting an image. The lack of standards is a particular problem for IT managers who don't want to have to support multiple conflicting products or risk buying systems that embed what could be the losing recognition hardware.

Keith Horn of Fujitsu said the company's latest chip, in the market about a year, costs just three dollars at the OEM quantities and will appear in some notebooks next year. Still, to penny pinching PC makers $3 is a lot of money for something users happy with their passwords see as a nice-to-have novelty feature. To prod the market, Fujitsu has assembled a whole soup-to-nuts solution of a mouse design and all the software needed to surround the chip. Such efforts are necessary, but not sufficient for chip makers these days.

Everybody in security knows we need to get beyond the no-security level of passwords and move to something like these fingerprint recognizers. But until this sector can set some standards and drive the costs down even lower this will remain a niche option for a single SKU in the broad product portfolios of the big PC players.

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