MICROSOFT'S chief executive, Steve Ballmer, will open the annual festival of gadgetry which is the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, but it will be for the last time.
The company is betting on a strategy to "out-Apple Apple" by spreading its own launch events across the year, in the hope of building razzamatazz around a new suite of products including Windows tablets and motion-sensitive interactive television.
The idea has been hatched because Microsoft is enjoying glowing reviews for its new Windows operating system for mobile devices and its Kinect system for the Xbox, which does away with a handheld controller in favour of a sensor that tracks the body movements of gamers.
And while Microsoft and Nokia will unveil more details of their range of Windows smartphones this week, and some 20,000 new consumer products are expected to launch over the four days of the show, analysts say the 2012 event will feature few genuine technological breakthroughs.
Instead, according to Shawn DuBravac, the chief economist for the organiser, the Consumer Electronics Association, this will be "the year of the interface" - where manufacturers and software developers work to improve the usability of existing devices.
"Gesture and voice controls are showing up in more devices," he told a preview session for the media.
This year's CES has attracted 146,529 registered attendees from more than 140 countries, with exhibitors filling 1.6 million square feet of display space across Las Vegas's convention centres.
Shelly Palmer, a technology consultant and the founder of Advanced Media Ventures, said it remained the premier showcase and networking event for the industry.
"If you are a content person looking for someone to distribute your content, or a developer looking for a manufacturer, whoever you are, you can do 20 years of business development in five days here," Mr Palmer said.
For consumers, the interest is in the vast array of weird and wonderful gadgets, which this year include everything from intelligent stove-tops to backpacks that can charge your iPhone.
The biggest trend this year could be for new ultra-thin laptops, called ultrabooks, which are modelled on Apple's MacBook Air.
Apple, though, has never attended the show, preferring instead to pick its own timetable for product launches.
The late Steve Jobs preferred all eyes to be on him when he announced his latest world-changing devices, and it is a lesson that Microsoft has learned.
Mr Ballmer is expected today to tout Microsoft's latest Windows operating system, Windows 8, which aims to create a standard look and feel across personal computers, tablets and smartphones.
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