Over the last eight years, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) hasn't exactly inspired its investors.

Tracking very closely to the S&P 500 index, Microsoft's stock is worth about 2.5% more today than it was in early April, 2002. Even with dividends diligently reinvested -- which would have been a foreign concept to a Microsoft shareholder back then -- you'd have a mere 26% return in eight years for a 2.9% annualized return. You could have done better with a decent savings account. Meanwhile, rivals from Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL) and Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) to Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) crushed the market over the same time frame.

If you had done that comparative survey a decade ago, Google wouldn't have been on the stock market and Microsoft was coming off a 1,720% rise since 1992 -- a storied 43.7% CAGR rate. Is it time for Mr. Softy to rise again?

I mean, there is no way that a company with a $260 billion market cap will ever be able to generate the torrid growth seen by Microsoft in the 1990s, but the king of software has gone nowhere for a very long time.

Strong reports from the likes of Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Oracle are showing signs of a huge rebound in the enterprise-class computing sector as companies everywhere are finally getting their budgets in shape. Microsoft's Windows 7 is both a driver and a beneficiary of this trend, marking an enormous improvement over the failed Windows Vista iteration that largely explains why this stock underperformed its peers for a very long time.

If Windows 7 and business-grade software packages can't revive Microsoft's stalled stock, then perhaps the company can find new markets to fuel its growth. Oracle and Cisco are growing by acquisition, setting a fine example for Redmond to follow. Microsoft has over $33 billion of short-term investments in the bank and could very well go on a spending spree. It's just a matter of picking a target that wants to be bought, rather than forcing a reluctant bride to the altar. If Microsoft is serious about the Internet, perhaps it should make a pass at a dainty little networking specialist like Akamai Technologies (Nasdaq: AKAM) -- but with a Microsoft-sized checkbook, the possibilities are nearly endless.

So if Steve Ballmer and his merry band can decide what they want to be when they grow old, I see enough untapped potential catalysts to make the stock worth buying. Just don't expect get-rich-quick returns. Apple and Google hold loads of promise and risk, and Microsoft is the low-risk, low-excitement elder statesman of tech nowadays.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Google and Akamai, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Akamai Technologies and Google are Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendations. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor choice. The Fool owns shares of and has written puts on Oracle. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.