LAS VEGAS — Microsoft may have relinquished its starring role in America's gaudiest gadget show a year too early.
After 13 straight years in the spotlight, Microsoft's decision to scale back its presence at this week's International CES deprived the software maker of a prime opportunity to explain and promote a new generation of redesigned computers running its radically remade Windows operating system.
The missed chance comes at a time when Microsoft Corp. could use a bully pulpit to counter perceptions that Windows 8 isn't compelling enough to turn the technological tide away from smartphones and tablets running software made by Apple Inc. and Google Inc.
“They needed to be at this show in a very big way to show the progress they have made and what is it about 2013 that is going to make consumers really gravitate toward a Windows 8 machine,” said technology industry analyst Patrick Moorhead.
Since Windows 8 went on sale in late October, there has been little evidence to suggest the operating system will lift the personal computer industry out of a deepening downturn. Worldwide PC shipments during the final three months of last year dropped 6 percent from the same period in 2011, according to the research firm International Data Corp.
Microsoft, though, insists things worked out just fine during CES, even though it didn't have a booth at the sprawling trade show, which drew some 156,000 people to Las Vegas.
The company, which is based in Redmond, Wash., decided it no longer makes sense to invest as much time and money in CES as it once did. Windows 8 was still more than nine months away from hitting the market when Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer kicked off last year's CES with a keynote address that was billed as the company's swan song at the show.
“We are very comfortable with our decision,” Microsoft spokesman Frank Shaw said. “It has been a productive show for us this year.”
Microsoft's retreat from CES puzzled some attendees curious about Windows 8. For instance, when Michael Sullivan showed up at computer maker Asus' booth, which was stocked with Windows 8 computers, there was no one around to discuss the machines or the software.
“This is unusual,” said Sullivan, CEO of computer sales firm Spec 4 International Inc. “I don't understand why a successful company isn't bringing executives here.”
Asus invited some CES attendees to learn more about Windows 8 at a nearby hotel, away from the show's main trade show. Asus has left its booth unmanned in previous years at CES.
NPD DisplaySearch analyst Richard Shim thought Microsoft should have had more people helping to staff its partners' booths because, he said, no one understands how Windows 8 works better than the company that made it.
You couldn't walk through the (CES) floor without seeing people doing really interesting things with Windows 8.”