Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has a tough job ahead of him when he kicks off the keynote speeches at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2008 in Las Vegas on Sunday.

He'll be hard pressed to make sure CES outshines the Macworld Conference & Expo. Last year, Steve Jobs stole the technology-world spotlight at Macworld when he announced the iPhone. It overshadowed everything at CES and has been as big a hit as everyone thought it would be. He's on tap to speak again at Macworld this year and rumours say Apple could reveal anything from its own ultramobile PC to an online movie rental service.

But what will Gates announce? Last year, rumours of the iPhone, and poor scheduling with the two shows running at nearly the same time, prompted some people to skip part of CES to hear Jobs' speech at Macworld. At least this year the scheduling is better, with Macworld starting just after CES ends. But what Microsoft rumours are there? Vista Service Pack 1? Internet Explorer 8? The Xbox 360 might get motion-sensor game controllers so it can compete with Nintendo's Wii? Yawn.

Details on the rumoured next-generation Windows OS, code-named 7, might be interesting, but since Vista is still new for most people, it's hard to guess what a new Windows OS might look like. The most exciting Microsoft rumours today are corporate, not product; namely that the software giant might buy Yahoo, or Bloomberg.

CES officially runs from January 7 - 10 in Las Vegas, but Gates' keynote is on Sunday, January 6. The show is one of the largest technology expositions in the world, with companies displaying thousands of gadgets to an estimated 150,000 attendees. The Macworld expo is from January 14 - 18 in San Francisco.

Mobility is a major theme this year due to strong sales of laptop PCs, which people are starting to favour over desktops. The notebook computer market is growing at a 30 percent a year clip, compared to single-digit growth for desktops.

Motorola is expected to show off new handset and other products at CES, while Yahoo is said to be previewing new mobile technologies, which may possibly counter Google's Android. Some companies may even show off 'Gphones' made with the Google software. Rumours say that Taiwan's HTC has handsets it has designed for Google's software, and is currently tweaking and perfecting the devices.

Companies are also expected to show off satellite technology for mobile TV, and HDMI (high definition multiple interface) technology to let users connect HD (high definition) video cameras and cameras to their HD TV for high-definition display.

There will also be laptop computers with huge hard drives, 500GB to 1TB (terabyte), as well as a number of new ultramobile PCs and smartphones on display.

Samsung is expected to unveil a 31in to 40in OLED TV (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode television set) that uses less than half the electricity of a comparable-sized LCD TV (liquid crystal display) and is only 4.3mm thick, far easier to mount on a wall than LCDs, which are five to ten times larger.

NEXT PAGE: the need to be seen to be green, and technology for cars > >

This year, green is gold at CES. Companies are clamouring to become known as environmental allies with less-toxic or more power-efficient PC gear. Expected products range from a PC made from corn by Fujitsu to a laptop PC from Asustek that uses bamboo for its casing. The Fujitsu PC uses plastics made from bio-degradable products, including castor beans and, its US publicist says, corn. Does that really make the casing bio-degradable? In the end, the company will have to prove the casings do break down, and how long it takes. If it can't, then hopefully Fujitsu will be a good corporate citizen and offer a free-recycling program to buyers.

Other companies are expected to show off energy-efficient components such as microprocessors, memory chips, batteries and other gear, as well as full systems including servers, PCs, laptops and more.

Automotive electronics will be more prominent at this year's CES. And it's more than GPS (global positioning system) devices (of which, there will be many). Rick Wagoner [CQ], chairman and CEO of General Motors (GM), will give a keynote speech at CES, purportedly about new technology for cars.

Electronics have found their way into more parts of cars, including orchestrating how hybrid cars use different power sources such as gas and electricity. Other car technologies include software to allow you to tell your car to turn on the radio or answer the phone, such as Sync, so you can keep your hands on the wheel.

There will be plenty of new stuff to check out at CES. But we'll have to see if it can beat out the Macworld expo for this year's technology spotlight.