The market's been humming along nicely for the last few quarters. Now it's nail-biting time, as many of the country's biggest names try to justify those stock gains with September quarter results.

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) report this week. Other huge tech names like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), IBM (NYSE:IBM) and EMC (NYSE:EMC) will also reveal their quarterly financials.

You've got enough bellwethers here to start your own symphonic flock, though they're guiding different herds. While Microsoft and Intel will shed some light on the state of the computer industry, Apple may prove to be a better gauge of how online music is faring. IBM? Corporate services, baby, while EMC lets us know if companies are starting to spend on information technology again.

But don't have a one-tech mind. From Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) to Coke (NYSE:KO), we'll learn about agriculture and pop culture. Hershey (NYSE:HSY) and Mattel (NYSE:MAT) should answer those questions lurking in the back of your mind about chocolate bars and Barbie dolls.

By week's end, you will have literally hundreds of companies posting their latest results. Yes, earnings season is a deluge of numbers, new optimism, and shattered promises. But with so many important companies set to announce their financials, some will leave a mark on the market's direction. You can hope for the best, sure, but due diligence will go a long way to keeping your fingernails intact.

How do you think Microsoft will make out when it reports on Thursday? Do you think Microsoft was right to initiate a dividend policy earlier this year? All this and more -- in the Microsoft discussion board. Only on