HOUSTON (AP) _ Logging onto a computer soon could be just a fingertip away.

Compaq Computer Corp. on Tuesday introduced Fingerprint Identification Technology, a way to use a person's fingerprint instead of a password to log into a computer network in the workplace.

The technology uses a device, about the size of a deck of cards, that plugs into the office computer. A camera takes a picture of a person's fingerprint, and software transforms the fingerprint into a point map that is stored for future reference.

Later, a user holds a finger to the camera, and the computer matches the stored print map to the fingerprint.

The product is expected to become widely available next month.

``No question that this is of great value,'' Tim Bajarin, president of the Creative Strategies industry research firm, told the Houston Chronicle.

Though network security is important, even for small companies, Bajarin said it will be three to five years before this type of technology becomes widespread.

The identifier initially will help companies that have computer networks by providing increased security and easing the log-in process, said Michael Takemura, Compaq's product marketing manager for desktop products.

Products similar to Compaq's already are on the market. But Compaq hopes to capitalize on its product's relatively cheaper price, $99. SecureTouch from Biometric Access Corp., for example, sells for $199.

The identifier was the result of collaboration between Compaq and Identicator Technology, a company based in San Bruno, Calif., that makes a number of fingerprint identification products.