Microsoft on Tuesday, as expected, officially introduced BizTalk Server 2004, the third major release of its business integration software offering.Microsoft\u00a0on Tuesday,\u00a0as expected, officially introduced BizTalk Server 2004, the third major release of its business integration software offering.BizTalk Server 2004 succeeds BizTalk Server 2002 and is designed to help users integrate applications and automate business processes. It competes with products from vendors including IBM, webMethods, Tibco Software, SeeBeyond Technology and BEA Systems.The upgrade adds a host of features and offers expanded functionality, with key enhancements including improved scalability, the addition of a business rules engine and the integration of BizTalk Server's development environment into the Visual Studio .Net user interface. Microsoft launched BizTalk Server at an event at its Mountain View, Calif., campus."Application integration is the scenario customers expect us to deliver on," said Ted Kummert, Microsoft's corporate vice president for E-Business Servers, speaking at the BizTalk Server 2004 launch event.Virgin Entertainment Group already uses BizTalk Server 2004. Faced with a high number of employee thefts, the Virgin Megastores operator decided it needed near-real-time information on sales to catch any suspicious transactions, said Steven Winningham, Virgin's senior vice president of operations and information technology.Xavor\u00a0built a loss prevention system based on BizTalk Server 2004 and other Microsoft server products that monitors sales in 23 Virgin Megastores and sends out alerts to mobile devices as business rules that specify suspicious activity are triggered, said Ammara Masood, senior vice president at Xavor, in Irvine, Calif."We went from going through massive amounts of data in two weeks or later to getting details from 23 stores that is no older than 10 minutes," Winningham said. The system is already paying off, with fraud detections up 50%, he said.Pricing for BizTalk Server 2004 is unchanged from the 2002 version. The Enterprise Edition sells for $25,000 per processor, the Standard Edition is $7,000 per processor, the Partner Edition is $1,000 per processor and the Developer Edition costs $750. BizTalk Server 2004 won't be generally available until April 1.Coinciding with the launch, several software vendors announced compatibility with BizTalk Server 2004. Siebel Systems\u00a0said it has business integration products available, iWay Software announced adapters to provide links to various enterprise applications and Ultimus said its business process management suite supports BizTalk Server 2004.BizTalk Server 2004 was to be the foundation for "Jupiter," a project announced in 2002 to integrate BizTalk Server with two of Microsoft's other "E-Business Server" products, Commerce Server and Content Management Server. Microsoft\u00a0shelved the project\u00a0earlier this year. Customers saw no need for the suite, Microsoft has said.