For more than a year now, Microsoft ( MSFT) has suffered some painful insults for a tech company. The world's largest software maker has been called an unwieldy, mature giant and -- gasp! -- the new IBM ( IBM). In a nutshell, it is said, Microsoft is a tech behemoth falling behind smaller, more nimble rivals in emerging markets. And Microsoft's stock, stuck under $30 for more than three years, has reflected that view. The shares have been so stagnant that they're starting to attract a value crowd. Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft is unlikely to offer much to change all that Thursday when it reports results for its fiscal first quarter, a typically slow period. But the earnings report may mark the end of Microsoft's dog days, because the company is about to kick off a year-long parade of new products. With two major launches leading that parade next month, Microsoft could start showing signs of a comeback as early as the December quarter. "You could get a major surprise in the
calendar fourth quarter," says Michael Holland, chairman of Holland & Co., a New York investment company, who declined to speculate on which products could drive the surprise. "Because they have so much going on simultaneously, the chances of them surprising to the upside expands exponentially," Holland says. Microsoft is one of his major holdings. The first new product on tap will be the latest edition of Microsoft's database software, called SQL Server 2005 and slated to launch Nov. 7. A far splashier debut will follow Nov. 22 with Xbox 360, Microsoft's next-generation video-game console. Those product unveilings are expected to help Microsoft's revenue return to growth in the double-digit percentages starting in the December quarter. Analysts are currently expecting Microsoft to earn 35 cents a share on $12.29 billion in sales in the December quarter, which would represent flat earnings from a year earlier on a 13.5% jump in sales.