CES - Microsoft offers Vista free to CES exhibitors

Microsoft looks to advertising opportunities ahead of Jan 30 consumer release

Microsoft is apparently looking to get some free advertising for Windows Vista before the OS's official consumer release on Jan. 30. The company is offering exhibitors at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) free copies of Vista to run on computers they are using in their booths at the show.

"It certainly makes sense," said Matt Rosoff, an analyst with research firm Directions on Microsoft. "[CES] is the last big public event before the consumer launch. They have to do everything they can to promote it."

Of course, not everyone may want to use Vista, as the applications they are showing off in their booth may not be compatible with the new OS. But, as Rosoff said, "They don't have to take it."

He added that Microsoft PC partners such as Dell Inc. or Hewlett-Packard Inc. likely will be showing off Vista in their booths, even if other exhibitors don't take Microsoft up on its offer to run the OS.

There will be 2,700 exhibitors and 140,000 attendees at the CES show this year, according to the CES Web site. The show, which is the technology industry's largest conference in the U.S., runs from Jan. 8 to 11 in Las Vegas.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has keynoted at the CES show for the past eight years, and this year he will continue that tradition. Gates is scheduled to speak on Sunday, Jan. 7, the night before the show officially kicks off. Though Microsoft has not yet said what Gates will highlight in his keynote, Vista and its launch in late January undoubtedly will be one of his topics.

Vista has been available to business users since Nov. 30, but most companies are expected to adopt the OS in 2007 or even in 2008. The bulk of major third-party applications won't run on the OS until after it's widely available to consumers.

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