While Microsoft may try tablets again at CES, Windows 8 may be the star

Microsoft is expected to use the platform of January's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to hawk its tablet line, however the real star of the show may be Windows 8 according to published reports. The next version of Windows is not expected until 2012, so a debut at CES would be a surprise.

The Redmond company last used CES in 2010 to show off the HP Slate, a highly anticipated tablet device that has failed to see the light of day. So far, Microsoft's commitment to tablet computing has been a non-starter, with manufacturers either scrapping their plans, or even moving to competing platforms like Android.

In his yearly keynote to CES attendees, CEO Steve Ballmer is expected to unveil a line of tablets from manufacturers such as Samsung, Dell and others, the New York Times reports. Samsung's device is said to be similar in size to the iPad, although a bit thicker. No details were available on the other devices.

Samsung's device would also employ a different concept than other Windows-based tablets according to reports: when in landscape mode it would run a traditional version of Windows 7. However, in portrait mode the tablet would change to a "layered interface" more suitable for touchscreen devices.

Acer has already announced a line of tablets to make their debut in February, and Ballmer may also showcase these devices at the show. Whether or not HP will be a part of the presentation is unknown -- with its acquisition of Palm and thus WebOS, it's likely the company wouldn't play a significant role.

Some form of Windows 7 would probably power these devices, whether it is a full version modified for touchscreen use, or more likely a skinned and touch-enhanced version of the operating system. However, Ballmer may also use the platform to get Microsoft some much needed publicity in the first public preview of Windows 8.

Redmond is rumored to be developing the next generation of Windows to work better with touchscreen devices like tablets. Such a strategy might be wise for Microsoft: analysts -- and even Ballmer himself -- agree the company has fallen far behind Apple and Google (through Android) in gaining a foothold in this nascent market.

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