Microsoft is preparing to jump on the RFID bandwagon and has announced a Microsoft RFID Council to tie in its software with the tags' data-processing systems.

At the same time, it has also joined EPCglobal (Electronic Product Code) - an industry organisation working on RFID standards.

Acknowledging that companies including retail giants like Wal-Mart are looking for RFID systems, Microsoft plans to add RFID processing systems to its equip its SQL Server, BizTalk Server and Windows CE. “This data needs to be stored and managed,” said Javed Sikander, program manager for RFID strategy at Microsoft. “The goal of the council is to identify RFID requirements for the Microsoft platform,” he said.

The actual goal, of course, is to use its size and ubiquity to push what is expected to become a huge market the way it wants it to go and, perhaps more importantly, away from its competitors. Sitting on the standards board gives Microsoft knowledge of and some power over how the emerging standards are formed, and the Microsoft RFID Council gives it real-world veto power if enough big vendors can be persuaded to join it.

The council at its outset will feature Microsoft and seven others, including RFID product vendors Intermec and Accenture. Its mission is split into three phases. The first looks at complying with RFID mandates; the second, helping companies introduce RFID; and third, "boosting collaboration" between companies.

Microsoft is not alone in trying to steal the RFID market however. “Since we’re still early on in the maturity of the RFID market, these kinds of partnership arrangements are going to start up all over the place,” said VP of technology research services at analysts Meta Group, Gene Alvarez. “This is a good move for Microsoft because it will help them out with their existing installed platform in the retail arena,” he said.

The other members of the Microsoft Council currently are: GlobeRanger, which connects enterprise systems to RFID information; HighJump Software, which builds RFID-enabled solutions; Manhattan Associates, also a maker of RFID systems; Metro AG, a German retailer rolling out RFID; and supply chain systems maker Provia Software, which also uses RFID. Microsoft plans to recruit other vendors to its cause.

Microsoft's new best friend Sun is also eyeing opportunities in RFID. “Our main focus is one what we call the RFID middleware,” said Jonathan Schwartz, newly appointed Sun president and COO, last week. According to Schwartz, Sun middleware running on Sun hardware can manage and control readers and send information up the value chain.