Tech's go-to names are stuck on the bench as big business learns a new playbook.

Wall Street has spent four long years waiting for information technology spending to bounce off the deck. Recovery hopes have only grown stronger this year as big-name CEOs filtered some optimism into their cautious economic outlooks.

But some observers say investors awaiting a revival in the likes of Cisco ( CSCO) and Microsoft ( MSFT) should stop holding their breath. These analysts say the business-technology game has changed so much that what is commonly thought to be a brief pause in capital spending may actually mark a lasting drop.

In the last boom, companies felt pressured to put their businesses on the Web to stave off competition. That meant lots of spending on new gear and software. But now many corporations aren't hearing those footsteps, and a surplus of existing technologies means that workable solutions to various problems can be had on the cheap. All this comes at the expense of growth and profit margins at the big tech companies that drove the 1990s tech frenzy.

"You no longer have the specter of dot-coms coming to take your business," says Sanford Bernstein analyst Paul Sagawa. "You aren't thinking of tech as the core of your business -- you've gone back to thinking of it more as a cost center."

In fact, if not for a federal tech spending binge, there would be little large-scale IT activity to point to recently.

Tech-spending skeptics point out that the Nasdaq's turn-of-the-century upsurge was marked by one simple premise: Companies had to adopt a whole new communications technology -- or risk an attack on their business from any upstart sporting some Internet routers and data servers along with a storefront on the Web.

Predictably, nature took its course. The overspending that gave rise to the boom era was answered by the weight of oversupply, which led to huge slides in shares of tech era favorites such as Dell ( DELL) and Intel ( INTC).

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