While Microsoft announced vague RFID plans at its TechEd conference in Florida earlier this month, there was no talk at that time of a specific RFID Server, just of a broader RFID infrastructure platform. Launching an RFID Server will pitch Microsoft into RFID competition with the likes of Cisco, IBM, Oracle, BEA and others. In an interview with ComputerWire, Microsoft products and solutions marketing manager for business process and integration, Gavin King, confirmed the plans for an RFID Server, though he said it is still too early to put an exact date on the general availability of the technology. King said: "We will be launching RFID Server, based around the core technology of our BizTalk (integration) Server. Today RFID technology is quite expensive and quite complex, but just as with Moore's Law, the price will come down and we think hit a point next year where it makes sense for far more companies. RFID Server will offer the tools and ease of use to enable that shift." Meanwhile, King also fleshed out a few more of the details of the upcoming launch of BizTalk Server 2006, Microsoft's integration broker platform that is to be launched the week of November 7 this year. "Key improvements will be enhancements to its BAM [business activity monitoring] capabilities," said King, "as well as ease-of-use improvements to the tooling. There will also be improvements in the area of workflow." King said that BizTalk Server 2004 was let down by its maintenance and administration features, which have been handled using the Visual Studio environment. With the launch of BizTalk Server 2006, this changes, as the company will offer integration with the Microsoft MMC management console and a raft of new administration tools for performance tuning and other configuration jobs, separate from Visual Studio. King said BizTalk 2006 would integrate more tightly with Microsoft's Windows SharePoint Services technology, which offers information sharing and document collaboration capabilities, as well as with Microsoft's InfoPath, the Microsoft Office information gathering and management program. There will also be tighter links with the rest of the Windows Server modules, as well as support for 64-bit Intel platforms. King said there are 4,600 Microsoft BizTalk customers worldwide, and that the technology has mistakenly been perceived as an integration platform for less-than-mission-critical projects. In the UK, for example, House of Fraser used the technology as a new platform for its EDI-based integration with suppliers, linking over 1,300 of them for more streamlined order and inventory management. House of Fraser said with its former proprietary EDI technologies it took two to five man-days to add a new supplier to the system. Using BizTalk Server, the company cut its management overheads for business-to-business systems by 50%, and enabled new suppliers to be added to the system in just an hour. Also in the week of November 7, Microsoft is expected to launch SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005.