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By Nathalie Tadena

Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES

TAKING THE PULSE: Despite fears of a slowdown in technology spending, major software companies are still expected to report improved first-quarter results as businesses continue to invest in cloud computing services. Technology research firm Gartner Inc. (IT) recently forecast world-wide enterprise-software revenue would reach $280 billion this year, a 5% increase from a year earlier.

Last month, business-software giant Oracle Corp. (ORCL) reported its fiscal third-quarter profit rose a better-than-expected 18% as the strength of new license revenue offset weaker hardware sales and said it had turned around its weak performance last fall.

COMPANIES TO WATCH:

International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) - reports April 17

Wall Street Expectations: Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expect a profit of $2.65 a share on revenue of $24.77 billion. Last year, Big Blue posted a profit of $2.31 a share, or $2.41 excluding pension-related costs and amortization, and revenue of $24.61 billion.

Key Issues: IBM provided strong guidance for 2012 earlier this year, helped by its software and services business--which is likely to again be a primary area of focus for investors. IBM has benefited recently from its push toward higher-margin complex businesses--such as business analytics--and away from crowded fields where companies can compete on price. Stifel Nicolaus notes IBM's growth markets--which include Brazil, Russia, India and China--will be the primary driver for revenue growth in the latest quarter. The firm expects software growth to decelerate from 2011 due to year-ago large acquisition activity while hardware revenue faces tough comparisons from major new product launches last year. The company's new chief executive, Virginia Rometty, took charge in January.

VMware Inc. (VMW) - reports April 18

Wall Street Expectations: Analysts expect VMware to post a profit of 59 cents a share on revenue of $1.03 billion. A year ago, the company reported a profit of 29 cents a share, or 48 cents a share excluding stock compensation and other impacts, as well as revenue of $843.7 million.

Key Issues: VMware is the dominant player in the market for virtualization software, which allows users to run multiple computers' operations on a single machine, the first step in cloud computing. The company has seen its results soar in recent quarters but with more than half of its virtualization market served, VMware is now expanding focus to selling bundles of applications on top of its virtual software to help businesses serve the growing number of mobile platforms. Last fall, VMware introduced the fifth update to its vSphere software and nearly a dozen other products, illustrating its widening product line. The company this year plans to spend more on long-term growth opportunities--such as authentication and security in the mobile space--which could weigh on profit margins. International Strategy and Investment Group Inc. expects VMware's latest results to show continued momentum after a record deal last quarter with a large technology customer as well as robust growth.

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) - reports April 19

Wall Street Expectations: The industry giant is projected to report a fiscal third-quarter profit of 57 cents a share on revenue of $17.14 billion. Last year, Microsoft posted a profit of 61 cents a share, which included a five-cent tax benefit related to an agreement with the Internal Revenue Service, and revenue of $16.43 billion.

Key Issues: Microsoft's recent results have been carried by continued sales of its Office suite of products to corporate customers, while the company's flagship Windows operating system has suffered on declining PC sales. Microsoft has warned that a shortage of hard disk drives, a result of supply disruptions due to last year's flooding in Thailand, may again pressure PC shipments in the third quarter. Though Microsoft's Xbox video game console has seen strong gains lately, the company expects entertainment revenue to grow in the high single digits compared with 15% growth in the seasonally strong second quarter. Microsoft needs sales of its flagship products to remain robust as it transitions customers to cloud services and its forthcoming Windows 8 operating system. The company is counting on Windows 8 to dent the dominance of Apple Inc. (AAPL) and Google Inc. (GOOG) in the expanding consumer and mobile markets. Nomura notes Microsoft's fortunes are improving because four new products shipping this year--including tablet-ready Windows 8 system--that will exert a "gravitational pull" to lift the business.

Citrix Systems Inc. (CTXS) - reporting date to be announced

Wall Street Expectations: The company, which improves efficiency by allowing multiple systems to operate on one computer, is expected to post a profit of 51 cents a share on revenue of $562 million. A year ago, Citrix reported a profit of 38 cents a share, or 50 cents excluding stock-based compensation and other impacts, on revenue of $490.9 million.

Key Issues: VMware rival Citrix has posted double-digit revenue gains over the past two years as its desktop-solutions business, which includes XenApp and XenDesktop, has seen its growth accelerate due to the increasing importance of desktop virtualization. Nomura notes the company's XenDesktop and NetScaler software now face more difficult year-over-year comparisons, but the company will see greater benefits from its recent expansion of its direct sales force as the year progresses. Citrix recently decided to contribute its CloudStack software, a cloud operating system, to the open source Apache Software Foundation. JMP Securities said the move is incrementally positive for Citrix, noting it can now provide support and other services to augment the CloudStack software.

(The Thomson Reuters financial estimates and year-earlier figures may not be comparable due to one-time items and other adjustments.)

-By Nathalie Tadena, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-3287; nathalie.tadena@dowjones.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 10, 2012 15:37 ET (19:37 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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