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For as long as there have been door locks, people have been losing keys. Which is why combination locks have been around for almost as long. But it took the arrival of digital technology for manufacturers to come up with keyless systems that are truly simple and convenient to use. First adopted in the 1980s by hotels and other security-minded businesses, keyless locks — such as digital keypads, magnetic cards, and remote-controlled deadbolts — have lately exploded onto the home market.

Plummeting prices are a big factor behind the growing demand. "Twenty years ago, a commercial system could cost $20,000," says Allan Rich, president of, an Internet retailer of keyless systems. "Now you can get good residential models for $400." And as the technology becomes more affordable, the shortcomings of conventional keyed locks become more apparent. For instance, most keyless systems allow you to program in different codes for different users, so when the housekeeper quits, you just delete her code. Some let you define time periods for each code. That way, the furnace repairman can get in at noon, but not midnight. Still others can be linked to your computer, which can keep track of who's coming and going, or allow you to add and delete codes remotely. "We're seeing the whole home automation market expanding, and locks are part of it," says Jimmy Pendley, director of product management at Black & Decker's Kwikset division. "It's all about convenience now."

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