SEATTLE – Instead of unveiling an elegant response to the iPad, Microsoft came to the tech industry's premier gadget show with a collection of exposed computer guts.

Microsoft's biggest news was that the next version of Windows would run on the style of cell phone chips that power the iPad and other tablets today. It proved it with a series of demonstrations on half-built computers; on the monitors hooked up to those machines, the software was indistinguishable from the current Windows 7.

Microsoft's missing tablet served as a reminder that the world's largest software maker remains years from a serious entry into this new category of devices. It also raised more doubts about whether Microsoft Corp. will ever be able to grab a meaningful piece of this fast-growing segment. If it can't, Microsoft Corp.'s dominance of personal computers may become increasingly irrelevant as people embrace ever-sleeker portable devices.

CEO Steve Ballmer mostly lingered on what went right last year when he gave the company's customary keynote on the eve of the International Consumer Electronics Show on Wednesday. He had his share to boast about. Xbox 360 and the Kinect motion-sensing controller that's racked up more than $1 billion in sales in just two months, a ground-up overhaul of the Windows smart-phone software and rapid adoption of Windows 7 on PCs are all legitimate successes.