Microsoft has officially introduced BizTalk Server 2004, the third major release of its business integration software.

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, SeeBeyond and BEA.

The upgrade adds a number features and greater functionality, including improved scalability, the addition of a business rules engine and integration with Visual Studio .Net.

"Application integration is the scenario customers expect us to deliver on," said Ted Kummert, Microsoft's VP for E-business Servers.

Coinciding with the launch, several software vendors announced compatibility with BizTalk Server 2004. Siebel said it has business integration products available, iWay 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 server products, Commerce Server and Content Management Server. But Microsoft shelved the project earlier this month, claiming customers saw no need for it.

Pricing for BizTalk Server 2004 is unchanged from the 2002 version. The Enterprise Edition sells for $25,000 (£13,600) per processor, the Standard Edition is $7,000 (£3,800) per processor, the Partner Edition is $1,000 (£550)per processor and the Developer Edition costs $750 (£408). BizTalk Server 2004 will be available after April 1.