Microsoft takes measure of RFID hype

RFID may seem like mainstream technology, at least when measured by sheer volume of hype. But the radio tagging technology is still in the early stages of adoption at many companies, despite RFID mandates from Wal-Mart and other early advocates.

Paul Flessner, the man in charge of building Microsoft's server software, said the company was even reluctant to announce new RFID technology on Tuesday.

But customers have been asking for details on how Windows, and other Microsoft programs, will ultimately handle gigabytes worth of data produced by RFID-tagged produce, gambling chips and yes, even people.

"It's a little early. I wasn't sure we should announce it (today)," Flessner told CNET at Microsoft's TechEd conference in Orlando. "But the market is super-excited about this stuff. It's a little hyped, in terms of the technologies. But people are sort of panicky, (and asking) are you going to have a footprint? What's it going to be? We're definitely going to have a footprint. We're definitely going to make it a Windows, a Microsoft economic model for the masses. But it's early. We don't know how we're going to package and price it or how the whole thing will come together."

Flessner cited ongoing RFID projects at Wal-Mart, the Department of Defense, and elsewhere as proof of RFID's early appeal. "It's real, but it's overhyped. It will probably be a couple of years down the road before any kind of mass adoption. But supporting device drivers in Windows is going to explode, the popularity of it I think. So we want to be well-positioned so we can grab the data and get it into the application platform, whether itÂ’s a database or another tier. You can do that now with RFID, it's just hard because each of these RFID readers has its own protocol. It's low level, hard work."

Microsoft is working with academia and with large retailers to refine its strategy, said Ilya Bukshteyn, director of SQL Server marketing. "We're not working alone on this. It's very much a partnership model. You'll see more news on this front," he said.

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