It has been a long and difficult road for both Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Oracle (NYSE:ORCL) as each navigates its way to new, cutting-edge markets. The good news for investors, particularly those in search of growth and income alternatives, is that Microsoft and Oracle are both making strides to carve out a place for themselves in the fast-growing cloud market.

The opportunities the cloud offers Microsoft and Oracle are nearly limitless. Industry pundits expect cloud and related offerings will become a $100 billion plus market in the coming years, and that's not even the good news for Microsoft and Oracle. What stands out is that both companies are focused on delivering Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and related cloud-based solutions, rather than simply focusing on data hosting, which is a business that has already become commoditized.

That said, despite their many similarities, one of these companies seems to offer investors a slightly better opportunity in the months and years ahead.

Oracle Cloud

Image source: Oracle.

The case for Oracle
Despite a drop in total revenue last quarter (from $9.33 billion to $9 billion), a bump in expenses, and squeezed operating margins, Oracle shareholders have enjoyed a 4% jump in share price in the past month. Why? Because, Oracle is making headway in its transition to becoming a leader in the SaaS and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) cloud solutions markets.

According to founder and now Executive Chairman Larry Ellison in the earning press release, Oracle is "already selling more enterprise SaaS and PaaS new cloud revenue than any other company in the world." That may be a bit of a stretch. Oracle reported total cloud sales of $735 million last quarter, which isn't quite in the same ballpark as Microsoft and other cloud providers. But it did demonstrate a 40% improvement compared to the year-ago period.

Oracle's cloud results look even better when infrastructure sales, which declined 2% year-over-year to $152 million, are removed from the equation. The all-important SaaS and PaaS units climbed an impressive 57% in fiscal Q3, giving investors hope that Oracle's commitment to all things cloud-related is paying off.

Just as important as Oracle's cloud growth is the sense that the Street is finally beginning to recognize hardware and other legacy business sales are no longer where Oracle's bread is buttered. Now add in a respectable 1.5% dividend yield and its forward price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of just 14, and there's a compelling argument for Oracle stock.

The case for Microsoft

Images

When CEO Satya Nadella replaced longtime chief Steve Ballmer in February 2014, one of his first orders of business was to introduce Microsoft employees and investors to his "mobile-first, cloud-first" mantra. Microsoft stock continued to be battered with each new, depressing PC sales forecast. But as Nadella's transformation efforts began to pay off, investors slowly caught on to the fact that Microsoft was no longer reliant on PCs, and just as with Oracle, shareholders are finally reaping the rewards.

Despite the fact that Microsoft's string of consecutive quarters with triple-digit cloud sales growth has finally ended, its annual revenue run rate of over $9.4 billion as of last quarter puts it squarely in the lead. What makes Microsoft's cloud results even better for investors is that it's led not by the Azure data hosting platform, but the adoption of industry standard SaaS solutions including Office 365, Dynamics CRM, and similar products.

Last quarter's nearly 70% jump in Microsoft's Office 365 revenue is a testament to both its cloud-first pillar, as well as its mobile efforts. Some pundits have lamented the poor sales of Microsoft's smartphone line-up as proof Nadella's mobile-first initiative is failing. The thing is, Microsoft's mobile success isn't necessarily about selling smartphones. Its objective is to get its assorted cloud-based SaaS solutions into as many devices as possible, regardless of manufacturer or operating system.

A more than 20% jump in search revenue, doubling the number of Dynamic CRM users, and the aforementioned Office 365 results speak to Microsoft's success. Add a 2.7% dividend yield to its industry-leading cloud sales and its innovations in AI, augmented reality, and other technologies, and Microsoft earns a slight edge over Oracle.

  
 
 

Tim Brugger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Oracle. The Motley Fool recommends Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.