Marking the end of an era, Microsoft announced 2012 will be the last time it participates in International CES, the Consumer Electronics Association’s annual trade show and conference.

Microsoft has been giving the opening keynote at CES since Bill Gates took the stage in 1998, and it has had a presence there even before that. The tradition survived power outages in its pavilion, Gates’ resignation as chief executive officer, and even the infamous “blue screen of death” during Gates’ live demonstration of Windows Media Center in 2005. But the company now has many other choices for reaching out, just as technology has irrevocably changed so many other industries.

“We’ll continue to participate in CES as a great place to connect with partners and customers across the PC, phone and entertainment industries, but we won’t have a keynote or booth after this year because our product news milestones generally don’t align with the show’s January timing,” Frank X. Shaw, Microsoft’s corporate vice president wrote in an official blog post.

“As we look at all of the new ways we tell our consumer stories – from product momentum disclosures, to exciting events like our Big Windows Phone, to a range of consumer connection points like Facebook, Twitter, and our retail stores – it feels like the right time to make this transition,” he continued.

The Consumer Electronics Association issued a statement acknowledging Microsoft’s decision and asserting that it wouldn’t matter to CES. “Microsoft is an important member of CEA and we wish them all the best as they evolve their plans for new ways to tell consumer stories,” the organization said. It did add, however, “We have received expressions of interest for that space from the long waiting list for Central Hall exhibit space. Exhibitors will choose space for the 2013 CES during the 2012 show, and in past years available Central Hall exhibit space has sold out within hours.”

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer is scheduled to kick off the 2012 International CES with a keynote January 9.

Related links:

Microsoft blog post –

Photo of Steve Ballmer at 2011 CES by Lou Dematteis for Microsoft