The formal commercial release of two products from the fingerprint identification company Identix Inc. suggests a quickening in the availability of biometric and smart card security on a mass-market scale.

The Sunnyvale, Calif., vendor had done extensive testing of its software -- BioLogon 2.0 and the BioCard for smart cards -- at about 100 sites, including Fortune 500-size companies.

Though the technology was displayed and demonstrated at recent trade shows in cooperation with computer-keyboard and other hardware manufacturers, its emergence from the so-called beta stage means that it has passed stress testing and is presumably ready for prime time.

Identix and a company it acquired in April, Identicator Technology Inc., have been strong supporters of technical standards for integrating fingerprint identification into computer equipment. The BioLogon and BioCard releases also move those efforts a step forward.

Keyboard makers Key Tronic Corp. and Cherry Electronics, smart card and hardware security developer SCM Microsystems Inc., and Unisys Corp. are among the companies shipping the Identix products on an OEM, or original equipment manufacturer, basis.

The second version of BioLogon, which authenticates users of corporate or enterprise networks, is out a year after shipments of the 1.0 release. Grant Evans, vice president of the Identix information technology security division, said the software has been "significantly enhanced" to better meet the requirements of network security administrators. "BioLogon 2.0 was designed to provide our customers with a complete network security solution, and we believe that it has fulfilled this need."

Identix chairman and chief executive officer Randall C. Fowler said, "The introduction of the smart card application provides the ability to operate either independently as a standalone security solution, or in combination with the DFR-200 direct fingerprint reader. The combination (of BioLogon and BioCard) adds a tremendous benefit by tightening the security within an enterprise network."

Compaq Computer Corp. is also supporting the enhanced BioLogon. The company just began shipping the software with its Fingerprint Identification Technology device. It will offer free upgrades to users of earlier versions.

"The Identix software release meets strict customer needs for tighter security and greater flexibility within an enterprise network," said Leigh Moore, marketing manager at Compaq. "The Compaq fingerprint device is the ideal building block and the price-performance leader with a suggested retail price of $99."

Identix made a flurry of other announcements over the last few weeks, indicating an acceleration not only in the security technology market but also in the company's taking advantage of synergies with what is now the Identicator Technology division. Identix historically specialized in "high end" fingerprint scanning, such as might be required by law enforcement agencies. Identicator had the compact, high-volume systems like Compaq's that brought the price point under $100, which is seen as approaching mass-distribution affordability.

The smart card with fingerprint security is incorporated in an extensive electronic banking system developed for Grupo Financiero Banorte in Mexico. Initially deployed for more than 4,000 workers in the town of Reynosa, the system is expected to serve at least 650,000 people without bank accounts.

NetLink Transaction Systems Corp. of Victor, N.Y., supplied the payroll system, Giesecke & Devrient of Germany the smart cards, and the Fujitsu Ltd. subsidiary ICL the automated teller machines, which verify cardholders' fingerprint data rather than personal identification numbers. NetLink said it chose Identix's fingerprinting over eight other biometric technologies.

Mr. Fowler said the Banorte program, CardStore, is similar to other Identix participations: a 600-ATM program of TASS, the Spanish social security agency; and the U.S. Treasury's stored value payment system at Fort Sill, Okla.

Meanwhile, Identix jointly announced with Digital River Inc. that they had made BioLogon software available for the first time via download from the World Wide Web, plus keyboard and mouse hardware options at discounted prices.

Minneapolis-based Digital River, which provides outsourcing support to more than 1,000 on-line retailing sites, was "anxious to lead e-commerce delivery of biometric security," given the growing interest in network and Internet security, said the company's president, Perry Steiner.

The unit prices are between $100 and $150, depending on quantities purchased.

Higher up on the Identix scale, the company has begun shipping the TouchPrint 600 live-scan fingerprint scanner for screening of job applicants, at a cost in the mid-$20,000 range.

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