So you think Autodesk (NASDAQ:ADSK) looks too expensive to touch today? Think again.

The veteran maker of 3-D modeling and drafting software just reported a strong second quarter -- but was it strong enough to justify the stock price? The bottom line improved to $0.05 of earnings per diluted share, a huge leap from last quarter's $0.14 loss per share. The profit was a result of tight cost controls rather than organic growth, since revenue fell 3% quarter-over-quarter to $415 million.

Autodesk saw sequential improvement across many geographic and product-line business segments, so there are cautious signs of a rebound in parts of the business. Industry demand for Autodesk's AutoCAD and 3-D design and video software never completely dies. But it's also a darn expensive company, at least by some popular metrics: Autodesk's price-to-earnings ratio is in nosebleed territory.

Trading at over 100 times trailing earnings, Autodesk looks more expensive than usual high-growth suspects like Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), or Linux specialist Red Hat (NYSE:RHT). But if you dig a little deeper, Autodesk's results paint a different picture. Price to earnings ratios are so overrated.

With shares trading at 2.7 times sales, Autodesk actually looks very fairly valued when compared with its peers in the software industry. Adobe Systems (NASDAQ:ADBE), Apple, and Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL) all trade at more than 4 times trailing sales. Google and VMware (NYSE:VMW) both sit north of the six times sales mark -- and I believe both to be undervalued today.

At 27 times free cash flow, cash flow metrics may be another reason to scare investors away from Autodesk. Using a price-to-sales ratio against competitors doesn't mean much if the company is generating less profit on their sales, as has been the case with Autodesk. However, I believe we're looking at a temporary situation. Autodesk is generally a reliable cash machine, but this recession has hit the company hard. Only yesterday, the shares were worth a perfectly normal 15 times trailing free cash flows. Over $188 million of cash from the year-ago period just dropped off that trailing twelve-month range.

Autodesk will get back to its old cash-rich habits soon enough. Maintenance revenue held firm on a year-over-year basis, while revenue drop-off was primarily in due to anemic new licensing sales. Since Autodesk's products are so essential to many corporate customers, it should see robust growth once IT budgets come back to life and have budget to upgrade rather than skim by on aging software. And when they do, Autodesk will look cheap all around.

Would you buy Autodesk today? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.

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Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Google but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings or a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.