Attending a Macworld Expo without Apple may seem like going to a rock concert to see the opening acts, but despite lacking the rock star presence, the show will go on nonetheless.

It was just prior to last year's conference, Apple announced that 2009 would be the last year it participated in the annual gathering, which has been held in San Francisco since 1985. This year's Expo, which has been rebranded Macworld 2010, will feature no keynote from Apple executives and no Apple booth on the show floor in Moscone Center's North Hall.

But while Apple's absence will certainly change the dynamic of the event, it hardly means that the show won't go on. There's plenty to do throughout the five-day event, which runs from Tuesday February 9 through Saturday February 13, even without Apple around.

Walking the floor

"It's going to be a smaller show this year," acknowledged Paul Kent, vice president and general manager for Macworld 2010. Last year's exhibition spanned both Moscone's North and South halls. "Many vendors decided to sit on the sideline and see what Macworld without Apple would look like. It's really up to those vendors, going forward."

The exhibition hall, open from February 11 to February 13, remains one of Macworld 2010's strongest draws, with more than 250 vendors, including the Mobile Application Showcase, the largest collection of iPhone developers ever assembled, and the Indie Developer Pavilion, a special area for independent Mac developers of all sizes. Plus, more than 60 vendors are introducing new products at the show. There's no question, said Kent, that the product experience remains a very central part of the show. "The three pillars of Macworld are product discovery, conference education, and the social experience."

Kent freely admits that rebounding from Apple's departure may be a two-year process, but he remains optimistic about the future. "I anticipate the vendors are going to come back in droves."

Naturally, it will help if the conference attendance is high. While the exact figures won't be known until the dust clears, there are more than 30,000 pre-registrations for the event. By comparison, Macworld Expo saw attendance of 45,572 in 2007, and a 10 percent increase over that in 2008. Attendance figures for last year's event, however, were not disclosed. Kent noted that he expects a packed house this year, including the more than 700 members of the media that have registered.

Headline acts

In addition to the exhibition hall, this year's show will have a number of feature presentations that Kent hopes will educate, inform, and entertain attendees. "You don't replace a Steve Jobs keynote," said Kent. "But we do know how to build very content rich events here."

On Thursday, New York Times tech columnist David Pogue will host a session called Late Night with David Pogue, featuring surprises guests and musical performances and noted writer and director Kevin Smith will hold a Q&A session on storytelling, technology, and filmmaking.

On Friday, entrepreneuer and former Apple Evangelist Guy Kawasaki will talk to developers about the state of innovation in the tech market; podcaster and pundit Leo Laporte will brodcast live with guests like MythBusters’ Adam Savage and The Byrds’ Roger McGuinn; and Daring Fireball author John Gruber will discuss the top issues shaping our world.

This year, for the first time ever, the show also extends to the weekend, with a musical performance by artist BT and an event discussing Apple’s iPad, led by Jason Snell, editorial director of our US-based sister title Macworld.