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Microsoft's CES no-show: Epic fail or epic foresight?

For the first time in what seems like forever, Microsoft's ubiquitous centerpiece booth and opening night keynote are missing from CES.

By Brad Chacos, PC World
January 10, 2013 07:46 AM ET

PC World - It should've been awkward. This year's CES is the first show since Microsoft's amicable split with the Consumer Electronics Association. Redmond severed deep ties, giving up an annual booth in a marquee floor spot, and sidelining theA dynamic duo of Ballmer and Gates, who had warmed up the crowd at 15 of the past 18 opening keynotes. Going in to this year's show, we expected the ambiance to match that first uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinner after your parents get divorced.

Best of CES 2013 in pictures

Boy, were we wrong. Or rather, tales of Microsoft's departure have been greatly exaggerated--though the company's reduced presence may just be a sign of things to come for CES.

A non-conspicuous absence

The HiSense booth occupying the front-and-center position once held by Microsoft's mammoth displays may stick out like a sore thumb to longtime attendees, but if you manage to overlook that, you'd almost swear Microsoft is still the belle of the CES ball.

Steve Ballmer put in a surprise appearance at Qualcomm's opening keynote, passing the metaphorical torch. Ballmer talked up ARM-powered Windows devices with his usual exuberance, while Windows CFO/CMO Tami Reller took the stage at a JP Morgan Tech Forum to announce that the company has sold 60 million Windows 8 licenses to date. She didn't reveal how many of those licenses have landed in the laps of actual users, but those are the first hard(ish) adoption numbers Microsoft has provided since Window's 8's one-month mark.

More importantly, Microsoft's manufacturing partners have been busy waving the Windows 8 flag with vigor.

Lenovo, Asus, Vizio, Samsung, Acer and others unveiled dozens of new Windows 8 devices, many of which sport hybrid-style designs that blur the line between laptop and tablet (or desktop and tablet, in some cases). Razer officially announced the Windows 8-powered Razer Edge, a.k.a. the single most powerful and funky looking tablet we've ever seen. (Discrete graphics FTW!) Intel, the other half of the ages-old Wintel hegemony, showed off low-power processors that promise to boost the battery life of the next generation of Windows tablets and laptops alike--and announced that all Ultrabooks bearing next-gen Haswell CPUs also have to sport a Windows 8-friendly touchscreen display. Heck, Microsoft software even made major waves in the automotive section, thanks to the extensive promotion of Ford's SYNC, which prominently displayed Microsoft's branding.

"It's almost like they're here," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle group. "I think the strategy to back away from this a little bit and let their partners carry the load has been a good one."

A missed opportunity?

Redmond's hardware partners may be picking up the slack gracefully, but at least one analyst feels Microsoft is missing a major opportunity to promote its new operating system, which has landed with more of a thud than a bang despite Tami Reller's license sales proclamation.

"The show would be complete with Microsoft here," says Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "I really think Microsoft has to continually show--and demonstrate to the industry--that Windows 8 is a growth platform and not a dying legacy platform. Instead, it was up to Intel and OEMs like Lenovo to tell that story." Moorhead also says that industry insiders haven't been negative about Microsoft's absence, however. "Actually, I haven't heard much (about Microsoft) at all."

Originally published on www.pcworld.com. Click here to read the original story.

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