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CES: Lenovo faces its customers

Lenovo, the Chinese computer manufacturer that bought IBM's PC division three years ago, introduced a line of laptops for consumers at this week's show dubbed IdeaPad (like ThinkPad, get it?). One intriguing feature: facial recognition technology.

The point, said Craig Merrigan, a Lenovo marketing VP, is security with convenience. The VeriFace software kicks in whenever the laptop is turned on or comes out of stand-by mode, quickly scanning the face of the person looking at its screen (there's a webcam embedded at the top). It then compares the images it captures against the ones of authorized users. If there's a match -- based mainly on the eyes and the facial architecture, Merrigan said -- the laptop unlocks. If not, it doesn't. "It's better than typing passwords," he said.

IBM was a pioneer in biometric security for computers, offering one of the first laptops with a fingerprint-based lock. So what's wrong with prints? "That's enterprise-class security," Merrigan said, and it can require a lot of fine tuning. VeriFace, on the other hand,"is very user-friendly."

Of course, many buyers couldn't care less about security, and they'll probably just turn off the VeriFace software. But those who worry about unauthorized uses of their laptops -- say, a student who doesn't want roommates pouring through the e-mails she sends, or a parent trying to restrict the time their kids spend in front of a screen -- will probably welcome the protection. They may especially like the logs that VeriFace keeps on their laptops, which collect the pictures of those who don't make it past security.

-- Jon Healey

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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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