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Microsoft under your thumb

New keyboard and mouse from the company's hardware division include fingerprint readers.

Microsoft is set to introduce a new line of keyboards and mice Wednesday, including models with built-in fingerprint readers.

Unlike most current implementations of biometrics, the new keyboard, mouse and standalone fingerprint reader use the technology not for security but convenience. The accompanying software memorizes the passwords Web surfers have to remember to get around the Web and automatically supplies the right password, once the fingerprint reader verifies who's there.

"Our focus was to tackle the convenience problem," said Tom Gibbons, general manager of Microsoft's hardware group. "We want to get the problem to the point where you only have to remember one password--for logging on--and we want that to be the strong password."

The new offerings also include a wireless mouse intended for laptop users on the go, with a small USB receiver that packs away into the bottom of the mouse for traveling. New wired and wireless keyboards offer improved ergonomics and an adjustable slider control for zooming in and out of documents and photos.

Microsoft is also revamping its Bluetooth-powered wireless mouse and keyboard to support connections to multiple devices, but customers will need to install the problematic Service Pack 2 for Windows XP to use either of them.

The new products incorporate a wealth of small enhancements to improve comfort, usability and convenience, Gibbons said, many of which are the result of Microsoft's ongoing research.

"Its a huge benefit being able to tap into $6 billion worth of R&D on an annual basis," Gibbons said. "We benefit a lot from what Microsoft learns about how people interact with their PCs."

The fingerprint reader-equipped keyboard and mouse sell for $104 together, $84 for the mouse alone or $64 for the standalone fingerprint reader. Prices for other new hardware products range from $45 for Microsoft's wireless notebook mouse to $149 for a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse combination. All products are available now or will be later in September.