With the increasing popularity of biometric security systems, vendors are looking for ways to make the technology easier to use. The U-Match BioLink Mouse from BioLink Technologies International Inc. takes things a step further, making its fingerprint scanner hard to avoid.
The BioLink Mouse features a fingerprint scanner built into the left side of the unit, where a right-handed user's thumb rests. Once a user account is set up, logging in requires no extra steps or motions because a user's hand is on the mouse.
Like other fingerprint scanners, the BioLink Mouse uses the image to generate a unique data series that it turns into a file that the company calls a "passport." Fingerprints are compared and identified based on this passport, and a fingerprint image cannot be reconstructed from it. For maximum accuracy and security, the mouse captures a 140K image with 500 dots-per-inch resolution.
The system is compatible with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 95 (OSR 2.5), Windows 98 and Windows NT 4.0. It works with networked computers and stand-alone PCs.
We tested the system on a stand-alone workstation running Windows NT 4.0.
Installing the BioLink mouse was easy. The hard-copy guide describing software installation is clear, and a wizard takes users through the short process step by step.
The BioLink Authentication System software integrates with the Windows NT User Manager, adding a "BioLink" menu item to the User Manager window. Through this menu item, administrators can access the BioLink Log-on Manager, a window that lists all registered BioLink users.
From the BioLink Log-on Manager, administrators can add and delete users as well as register a new fingerprint for an existing user (only one fingerprint per user can be registered at time). A simple wizard guides the user registration process. The system must capture three good fingerprint images, and we had no trouble at all with this process.
A user's account can be set to allow password log-on as an alternative to fingerprint log-on, but it cannot be set to require both a password and a fingerprint like other biometric products we've seen.
When a BioLink user is logged in to the machine with a fingerprint, only that user's fingerprint can unlock a locked workstation. Also, if the computer is set to use a password-protected screen saver, the user's fingerprint is required to gain access.
Those functions work a little differently with Windows NT than with Windows 95/98 because the latter operating system does not have a workstation lock function.
Our biggest beef with the system is the lack of a user's guide for the Windows NT version. Even though an option on the CD-ROM's menu says, "Install BioLink Guides," there was only one user's guide available, and it took a call to the company's technical support to figure out it was the Windows 95/98 version only.
However, a BioLink Technologies representative told us that in a few weeks the company will ship a completely different software package with the BioLink Mouse. The new version will include additional features such as file and folder encryption.
One other possible snag for some users: There is no left-handed version of the BioLink Mouse. If a user is left-handed or has a missing or injured right thumb, he or she can still use the BioLink Mouse by registering a different finger, but the angle is awkward.
Still, for a suggested retail price of $129, the U-Match BioLink Mouse combines the excellent security of biometrics with a lot of convenience for most users.
The next version will include more functionality and, we hope, better documentation.