I bought, and started playing with, a Microsoft USB fingerprint scanner yesterday. I’ve only had a little play with it but so far it looks pretty cool.
I started by installing the software that shipped with it, following which you can plug in the device. Unfortunately I had a couple of BSODs which I’m guessing were related but to be honest I didn’t take the time to check the event logs – and the system automatically restarted anyway. After 2 of these it was fine so I soldiered on.
You start by scanning your fingerprint into it – selecting a few fingers from the wizard is ideal (I chose index and middle finger on right hand). There was no pain and certainly no blood, so I kept playing
When a web site with a login screen is displayed (both HTTP and HTTPS) you simply press your finger on the scanner, it then prompts you to enter your username and password, and you select the appropriate “login” button if it detects multiple buttons to choose from, and hit the OK button. You then place your finger on the scanner again and it logs you in – complete with a little noise as confirmation that it worked.
I’ve added several sites to its collection and am getting into the habit of reaching for the scanner rather than the keyboard when it’s time to log in.
The scanner itself is relatively small and unobtrusive. I guess my only real issue with it is the red light it uses to scan your finger is on all the time, so if you’re working in a dimly lit area it can be just a little distracting (perhaps incorporating a pressure switch that turns the light on when you place your finger on it would be good for version 2). The scanning surface is a soft plastic which gathers dust and finger prints quite easily – simply cleaned with a little sticky tape (the instructions say cello tape but I used scotch tape). At first I thought there was a protective covering on the scanning surface that needed to be removed before use – much like you get on the screen of a mobile phone when it’s new – but don’t be fooled, it’s not a protective coating so don’t go trying to remove it!
After playing with the USB scanner for a day, I decided to bite the bullet and get the full kit – the keyboard with finger print scanner built in and wireless mouse (comes as a bundle). It was a simple matter of unplugging the USB scanner, installing the keyboard and mouse software, then plugging in the new devices.
Since the scanner is on the left side of the keyboard I had to cut the fingers off my hands and switch them around … no wait, that wasn’t necessary. After switching my fingers back to their correct sides (lucky I had some scotch tape left over) I simply scanned some fingers on my left hand using the wizard and that was it.
I’ll be playing with it a little more over the next days and weeks and will post back my thoughts as I learn more.
I must say one disappointing thing I found is it’s really only good for logging into web sites or using the fast user switching for Windows XP. Now this means it can’t be used on a machine that’s part of a DOMAIN (which puts us SBSers out of action for simple logins). I was hoping it could be used for logging into my computer but alas it’s not to be. In fact the instructions (yes I did RTFM) do say the scanner cannot be used for logins to a domain.
I guess I should clarify why I bought the scanner in the first place. I’d heard about the scanner and had been talking with a client who currently have a workgroup and will be moving up to an SBS network over the next few months. The users of this network are, how should I put it, not really technical when it comes to IT, so the thought was to use the scanners to help them adjust to logging into a network – a way of avoiding having to remember their username and password. I bought the scanner to do some testing for them but alas it’s not the solution they need.
In addition, I have a LOT of web sites I log into on a daily basis and this will help save me a little time each day – every bit helps. (in fact I used it to log into my blog and submit this post)
So, what’s the verdict so far? If you have a computer with mulitple accounts, which is in a WORKGROUP environment (ie can use fast user switching) then this is a great product for you. If you log into a lot of web sites during your working day then this is a great product for you.
If your computer lives in a DOMAIN environment, and you basically process email and use a few applications, with limited web site logins, then save your money and give these devices a miss – until they can handle domain logins. I guess it’s early days yet and newer versions may provide the domain login capability – or perhaps there are already products around that can do this. If there are and you know about them, please let me know – gives me an excuse to do some more playing…err…testing.