Microsoft at CES 2012: Nothing to see here?

The software giant has said that this year will be the last CES at which it will present a keynote and have a booth. So don't expect much in the way of big product news from company.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at CES 2011. James Martin/CNET

LAS VEGAS--Expect Microsoft, in its last ever Consumer Electronics Show, to end its long run with more of a whimper than a bang.

No doubt, there will be some pizzazz to tonight's keynote address from CEO Steve Ballmer. The opening keynote address at the world's largest consumer technology tradeshow is a marketing opportunity like few others. The company will showcase its key consumer products, demonstrating them with some flair and perhaps a celebrity or two.

But Microsoft doesn't plan to unveil any new major products at the show. That may seem odd in a year that promises big news for several of the company's consumer products. Microsoft will likely launch the next version of Windows, called Windows 8, as well as update its mobile phone operating system, Windows Phone 7.5, in 2012. And there is some expectation that it will announce plans this year for the next version of its Xbox console, which a source on the Xbox team says is targeted to debut in 2013 .

But each of those big news events will come later this year. When Microsoft announced last month that this CES will mark its last keynote presentation and booth at the confab , head spokesman Frank Shaw noted that "our product news milestones generally don't align with the show's January timing." What's more, with so many companies announcing so much at CES, it's hard for a product announcement to rise above the noise.

So rather than force news that's not quite ready, and fight for attention with the other product launches at CES, Microsoft will use this year's event to highlight announcements it's already made. Ballmer is likely to spend a chunk of his keynote speaking about Windows, but much of that talk will focus on Windows 7, which debuted more than two years ago. There will likely be looks at new thin laptops, dubbed ultrabooks, that partners will debut at the show.

Ballmer isn't going to ignore Windows 8, the touch-ready operating system that the company will rely on to compete with Apple's iPads, as well as power a new generation of PCs. But Ballmer is expect to go over features the company previewed at its Build conference in September, and in subsequent announcements in the following months.

As for Windows Phone, Microsoft's key partners will unveil new models at CES, most notably Nokia, which is rumored to be readying its sleek Lumia 900 , to be sold by AT&T in the United States. Indeed, CES may well be a momentum builder for the mobile operation system, which has won some kudos from the tech press. While Microsoft will likely highlight those new devices in the keynote and during the show, it will allow handset makers take the limelight for their products.

There's little doubt that Ballmer will use his keynote to talk up the momentum garnered by the Xbox. The console continues to be the best-selling game machine in the United States . And the Kinect motion-sensing controller also flew off shelves over the holidays. Ballmer is likely, too, to talk about new partnerships that are bring live programming to its Xbox Live service, some of which were highlighted as the company revamped the interface last month .

But the big news about the debut of a new console will wait, perhaps coming at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in June, where the audience is more focused on gaming and the timing is closer to a possible launch.

Microsoft is clearly set to make plenty of noise in the consumer electronics world in 2012. It's just not likely to crank up the volume too high at CES.

 

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