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How Tech's Royalty Plays CES

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- As 2011 kicks into full gear, the technology industry will usher in a new generation of products at its annual Consumer Electronics Show, which kicks off with pre-show speeches Wednesday evening in Las Vegas.

Most of tech will be there, with hundreds of small firms scrambling to make a name for themselves. Tech's royalty, however -- Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report), Google (GOOG - Get Report) and Apple (AAPL - Get Report) -- capitalize on the show in their own unique ways.

2011 CES

Not all of them show off products at the event. And in some cases, they do their best to minimize the favorable impact the show might have on the competition.

Microsoft

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will jumpstart CES with a keynote Wednesday, the night before festivities officially begin. Typically, Ballmer uses his keynote to promote Microsoft's most important products. Last year, he talked about the success of Windows 7, the company's efforts in the consumer space and, most notably, he showed off several tablets that would run Windows and compete with Apple's iPad.

Ballmer, of course, didn't deliver on his tablet promises. The Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) Slate, which many believed would help usher in a flurry of Windows-based tablets, launched late last year, but it's hard to find any record of consumers or enterprise customers that have purchased it.

Whether or not Ballmer can enjoy a better track record this year remains to be seen. But he will undoubtedly use his platform at CES to make bold promises -- and new tablet announcements. Reports started swirling late last month that said Microsoft was prepping a new version of Windows 7 designed for ARM Holdings (ARMH) chip architecture. Microsoft hasn't confirmed the rumors, but unveiling such a platform -- using ARM's ubiquitous, low-powered chips -- could be the software giant's most important step yet into the tablet space.

Finally, Microsoft is expected to talk about Windows 8, the next edition of the company's operating system. Details are few and far between, but some believe the new operating system will feature an app store, similar to the Mac App Store that Apple will open on Thursday.

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