In a hopeful indicator of continuing recovery, demand in the information technology sector has finally returned to pre-Sept. 11 levels and is now slowly climbing higher, according to a widely used survey of 1,600 companies released Thursday.The survey by Emeryville, Calif.-based Techtel, which has been conducting quarterly IT studies since 1984, measures both IT purchases by companies as well their consideration of future purchases. "Our data indicates that, as a whole, the IT market is stable and should continue to improve, barring another major shock to the system," said Michael Kelly, chairman of Techtel, referring to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But don't get too excited yet. The study breaks down purchases into two categories -- large IT purchases and general business purchases, which cover such items as printers and PCs. The survey found when separated out, enterprise IT purchases didn't quite reach the pre-Sept. 11 second-quarter levels. Techtel surveyed only larger companies or institutions including Ford ( F), AT&T ( T), Charles Schwab ( SCH), the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to Kelly, clients include Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch and Fidelity Investments. Kelly said that indicates the recovery is likely to take its time. "It's just going to be a nice slow ride coming back," he said. General business purchases, meanwhile, showed surprising strength, surpassing second-quarter levels. That finding, Kelly suggested, has interesting implications for Compaq's ( CPQ) merger with Hewlett-Packard ( HWP), which some have feared would be dragged down by a slowdown in PC sales. "It raises the possibility of the PC section now acting like a buoy," Kelly said. "I didn't expect it." Kelly dug further and found that Compaq also proved to lead in the low-end server market.