DigitalPersona Dips Fingers (with Prints) into Linux Waters

Tale as old as time–well, at least since 1991.

Microsoft-centric vendor gets the idea from current and potential customers that this Linux thing is not such a bad idea. Said vendor checks out the biggest Linux distros out there and goes to work porting their flagship application to said distro and then makes a big announcement.

The vendor, in this case, is DigitalPersona, Inc. But they didn’t exactly follow the script.

First off, here’s what DigitalPersona does: they make fingerprint readers and the software that goes along with them. They sell these devices (U.are.U) as stand-alone Readers that plug right into your computer’s USB port or as Modules with just the Reader’s guts that you can integrate this functionality into any device you choose.

(I personally would want one for my DVR remote, because if I see one more “Suite Life of Zack and Cody” on my DVR’s drive, it will be too soon…)

The wandering into the Linux fold comes in with the software to interact with these nifty devices. Yesterday, DigitalPersona announced that they would be offering the OneTouch software development kit for these U.are.U devices for the Linux platform.

So far, sounds like same old, same old, right?

Here’s the thing that caught my eye: the distros that they plan to support at Slackware 11 and SUSE Linux NLPOS v.9.0 SP 2/3. Hello?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against either of these distros, but you have to admit, not a whole lot of new vendors choose The Slack’ as their maiden Linux distro. And with MontaVista such a powerhouse in the embedded space, it seemed off to pick Novell’s embedded offering.

It was with these questions that I spoke to DigitalPersona’s Senior Product Marketing Manager Chip Mesec on the phone last week. I had a very interesting chat with Mesec, because even though the call started like the typical product briefing (complete with !shudder! slides), it quickly turned into a frank discussion of what DigitalPersona (DP) wants to do.

When DP heard from its customers that they wanted to tie DP’s devices to Linux, DP decided that the fastest way to accommodate their customers would be to give them exactly what they wanted. I’ll give you three guesses what distros their customers are using, and the first two don’t count.

Interestingly, when DP says it supports Slackware and the SUSE NLPOS distros, it’s extending its usual full customer support that the company’s Microsoft-using clientèle get: unlimited developer support for any applications written to the OneTouch devices. That does not mean, however, that these are the only two distros this SDK can handle.

Mesec explained that for users of other distros, DP will provide the source code from the kernel-mode device drivers, which can easily be modified to run on any distro that uses the 2.6 Linux kernel. Which made me ask, why not just release the software attuned to all 2.6-compliant distros?

Mesec explained that while Linux is really an are they feel has potential for their company, they admittedly didn’t quite have a feel for the development direction they wanted to go. Thus, the decision to stick only with supporting their current customers’ distros. He seemed pretty receptive to my suggestion that they broaden the offering to a more kernel-oriented product tie-in, though.

What I like about this company is that they seem to know exactly where their strengths and weaknesses are in the Linux arena and are doing their darnedest to make their initial offering a success for Linux developers. If you have a need for such appliances, I suggest you give them a look.