Windows 7 may add spice to CES

Software could overshadow gadgets at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show, with Microsoft expected to shed light on its upcoming Windows 7 OS.

The financial meltdown may also be lingering topic as tech vendors gather to flaunt products at the show in Las Vegas, hoping to show enough glitter and sparkle to bring them better fortunes in the new year. Attendees will pour over the latest technologies, including OLED (organic light-emitting diode) TVs, netbooks, smartphones, media players, and other entertainment devices.

Audiences may miss the show's perennial star, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, who gave his final CES speech earlier this year. Instead, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will kick off the event with a keynote address on Jan. 7. He's expected to give a peek at Microsoft's Windows 7 OS, which many hope will be zippier and less resource hungry than Windows Vista.

Microsoft expects to make "significant" Windows 7 announcements, including a possible release of Windows 7 beta software. A "sneak peek" at future Microsoft Office software may also be offered.

A look at Microsoft's future software could add pep to what otherwise might turn out to be a subdued show. Attendance at CES 2009 is expected to drop as consumers and technology vendors cut spending amid the economic crisis. Hotels, which in previous years were often packed months before the show, have been offering discounted rates to fill rooms.

The Consumer Electronics Association insists that pre-registration has been strong and says it's too early to call it a quiet show. Organizers expect 130,000 attendees, said CEA spokeswoman Tara Dunion.