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CES: Ballmer to Tout Windows Slates, Phones and TV

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The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the first major tech trade show of the new year, has traditionally been the venue for vendors trying to make a splash with their latest bids for consumers’ dollars.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer will kick off CES Wednesday evening in Las Vegas when he pitches the software giant’s latest products targeting that market.

High on the list are Windows 7-based tablet PCs, more Windows Phone 7 mobile handsets, and, according to reports, a new TV operating system based on its embedded Windows and aimed at bringing the Internet more fully into the living room experience.

The embedded TV software will be overlaid with something similar to the Windows Media Center interface, and the devices it runs on will cost around $200, according to a report Monday in The Seattle Times.

The Microsoft TV offering will once again bring the company into contention with familiar rivals Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) and Google (NASDAQ: GOOG). It’s a market that Microsoft has been pursuing since the mid-1990s, first launching its own attempt at a set-top box operating system before buying out WebTV in 1997. That morphed into MSN TV in the early 2000s, but Microsoft still has scant share to show for all its investment..

So, for Ballmer, it’s time again to pitch his version of the merger of computing and television in the living room to consumers.

However, the big event for many in Ballmer’s audience will be the first full-scale debut of tablet computers based on Windows 7 — a market that has been validated by the wild success of the iPad, even though Microsoft has been pursuing slate or tablet devices for more than ten years with little impact.

In fact, the tablet market may be primed to explode, given Apple’s recent success.

In a blog post Tuesday, Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps said the firm has updated its forecast for tablet PC sales to 10.3 million in 2010 and to 24.1 million in 2011.

The bad news for Ballmer is that Forrester expects most of those sales, at least for the first few years, to be iPads.

“One major assumption that changed in our model is the replacement rate, which we think will be closer to that of MP3 players or iPhones than to that of PCs,” Epps said in her post. “Although they are certainly used for productivity, tablets are proving themselves to be ‘lifestyle devices’ at home and at work, and as such we think consumers will upgrade to newer models more rapidly than they would a more utilitarian device like a PC,” she added.

Additionally, besides slate devices built on Intel’s new “Oak Trail,” low-power CPUs, Ballmer will reportedly also show a version of Windows for ARM-based tablets, which the reports say may be an early build of Windows 8.

Microsoft has been reticent to discuss the next release of its desktop operating system, which isn’t due until at least 2012, since Windows 7 is still only partway into its sales cycle after launch about 15 months ago.

Ballmer’s keynote will be streamed live over the Web at 6:30 p.m. Pacific time on Wed., Jan. 5.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.

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