Important note for Microsoft Fingerprint Reader users with Internet Explorer 7. Nov 8th 2006
Internet Explorer 7 is now out of beta and will start to be delivered to Windows users via Automatic Updates shortly. As it stands at the moment there are some serious problems in conjunction with the Fingerprint Reader. Read more about this

Microsoft Fingerprint Reader

Initial Review

I know that passwords are necessary but what I can't stand is the sheer volume that I seem to have ended up with over the years.  

I divide passwords into two categories.  A few are important passwords and passphrases - such as my log-on passwords, my PGP key passwords, website access, online purchasing and so on.  I have a few of these but I use them so often that even after changing them they are burned into my memory quick enough anyway, and even if I do forget, I have them stored securely, encrypted, off-site, in a safe, protected by alarms, and dogs, and that Alien from the movies of the same name.  Next to the small stack of important passwords is the massive Mount Everest of trivial, non-essential passwords.  Forum log-on passwords, website passwords for weather information, my personalized account, support site access passwords and a whole lot more.  I can see why I need a password for these but being in a position where I either have to remember hundreds of random alphanumeric strings (not likely), store them somewhere easy to access (they're not that important but I'm also not that dumb) or keep them stored in an application that requires me to use another password to access them is hard work.  I've lived with the latter option for years now and it time consuming and eventually I found myself not making use of what I'd signed up for in the first place.  

The Wall Street Journal claimed that back at the end of 2003 most people have at least fifteen usernames and passwords to remember - this has probably changed by now, I certainly have a LOT more, which makes me a good person to test this product out!

I decided it was time for a change.  While looking for a suitable wireless mouse for a client I came across the Microsoft Fingerprint Reader which promises that I can "say goodbye to password hassles".  Sounded good to me, so I gave it a go!

In a couple of days I received a small blown plastic box containing the fingerprint reader.  The reader itself is a small rectangular plastic box roughly 8.0 x 5.0 x 1.5cm attached to a meter or so of cable with a USB plug on the end.  In the middle of the box is a red eye - the part that does the fingerprint reading.  Along with the reader I got a CD and a multi-lingual instruction booklet.

Installation was easy, although I did hit a snag.  The software installed properly and detected the reader without problems but when it came to enrolling my fingerprints the first step was to enter my Windows log-on password (so the software could verify that I was actually me).  The software wouldn't accept my password!  My password is probably more complicated that most and I had an idea that this was the problem so I changed my password temporarily to something simpler and then the software didn't have any problems and I was away (I changed my password back again without any problems afterwards).

Enrolling finders is easy - you choose which finger you want to enter on-screen (one at a time - you can do all ten if you want) and tap the tip of it onto the red eye.  The system uses a set of high-power red LEDs to both detect finger movement on the reader and read the actual prints.  This technology is similar to how optical mice and trackballs work.

The device detects your finger and there's an on-screen image of your fingerprint.  

Do this four times and it's happy and your done.  I was eager to test it out for after tapping my right hand index finger three times I tried the left one and the program instantly told me that it didn't match - impressive!

I decided to enroll all ten fingers - because it was easy and fun!  

Afterwards I was ready to try it out on a website.  What better one to choose than Microsoft Passport site:

So, when on this screen what I'm supposed to do is tap one of my enrolled fingers to the fingerprint reader and the wizard will guide me through the process.  OK, I tapped my finger and a little graphic in the top-left hand corner of the screen told me that my print was recognized:

Up then popped the "Create Fingerprint Logon" wizard:

I changed the title to something a little better and entered my details. 

On the Passport screen is a "Remember me" check box.  I don't keep this checked but if I wanted in checked automatically during log-on I would use the "Choose Fields..." button to make it available.  Same goes for the "Do not remember my e-mail address" option:

Notice too how the selected fields are highlighted on the web page.  This is a really handy and well thought-out feature:

Now, once you have created a log-in profile on a web page or application there's a new addition to the browser window or application - the following button in the title bar:

This is used to indicate that you can log-in with a fingerprint.  It also allows you to change the details for the site of application by clicking on it (fingerprint verification is needed for this process too).  Touch the reader again and I'm in.  Simple as that!

So far, I'm enjoying the Microsoft Fingerprint Reader - the biggest headache has been finding all the usernames and passwords!  It's worked perfectly each and every time - recognizing my prints each and every time and rejecting everyone else's - just as it should!

I'll keep you posted on how I'm finding the Microsoft Fingerprint Reader.  So far, so good - I'm enjoying the sites that I've signed up to a lot more now and finding myself doing a lot more in a lot less time - what more can I ask!

For more information on the Microsoft Fingerprint Reader visit the Microsoft hardware website.

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Page 1 | Page 2 - second review | Page 3 - Questions

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
Last updated: May 4th 2004
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