Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the world's biggest software company will thrive in the exploding world of laptops, tablets and new applications.

It's Windows, Windows, Windows the 55-year-old Microsoft CEO said in his farewell appearance at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where his usual rough-shod manner was smoothed in an 80-minute session moderated by American Idol host Ryan Seacrest.

Promising the new Windows 8 OS may ship as early as late February, Ballmer devoted much of his CES keynote  -- more an extended commercial for Microsoft products than an address on the merits of technology - largely conceding that Apple has won the war for consumer hearts and minds.

For example, Ballmer lavished praise on the forthcoming Metro User Interface, which uses large picture-like icons on the screen, rather than the tiny little pictures PC users have become accustomed to for nearly 30 years; use of touch to begin applications and even gestures to begin applications.

The plain, intuitive opening screen is reminiscent of Apple interfaces in use for decades.

Not long after Steve Jobs returned to Apple, Microsoft acquired a small stake in the Cupertino, Calif.-based company and the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant said it would try to make its Windows-based PCs more friendly  to the Macintosh OS.

At CES, though, Ballmer had subordinates demonstrate new Windows Phones that use large, easy-to-use applications that resemble Apple's iOS for the iPhone; as well, Tami Reller, chief marketing officer for Windows, said her staff was working tirelessly to bring Windows applications to products that use chips from ARM Holdings of the UK, whose chips power every iPhone.

Still, Ballmer hailed Microsoft's long partnership with Intel, whose computing customers including Asus, Lenovo Group, Samsung Electronics and Hewlett-Packard all formally introduced laptops based on Intel's new 22-nanometer chips on Monday.

The laptops now run Windows 7 but Ballmer and his lieutenants promised they would instantly run Windows 8.

Ballmer also hailed its new partner, Finland's Nokia, run by former Microsoft VP Stephen Elop, for introducing its new Lumia 710 phones in the U.S. and Canada this week; both run Microsoft's Windows Phone OS. As well, Nokia said it will soon sell the Lumia 900 LTE phone through AT&T, another Windows Phone.

In the pure consumer electronics sector, Ballmer said Microsoft has shipped more than 66 million Xbox units for gaming and entertainment and claims 40 million online subscribers. The related Kinect product will continue to get an easier to use interface based on the Metro concept, he said.

Craig Davison, Microsoft's Xbox chief, announced the company has just completed new agreements to show programs from News Corp. units including Fox and the Wall Street Journal and plans to add programs from Comcast and its NBCUniversal unit soon.

Xbox already offers programs from Verizon Communications' FiOS entertainment arm.

Ballmer also said Microsoft's $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype completed in the fourth quarter has started to pay off. The Internet voice service now has 200 million users, he said.

Before he spoke, Ballmer was introduced by Consumer Electronics Association President Gary Shapiro, who recalled that Microsoft's founding CEO, Bill Gates, first spoke to the CES in 1998. In subsequent appearances, Gates discussed convergence of computing, communications and social media, which Shapiro said made him a visionary.

Shapiro termed Microsoft's decision not to participate in the 2013 CES a break and said there was no rancor. He invited Ballmer back .

The Microsoft CEO spoke before about 3,000 people crowded into a ballroom in the Venetian casino hotel.