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Companies may not be hiring actual humans as fast as the economic pundits would like, but they're definitely back in the market for software.

IT analyst firm Forrester declared the 2008/2009 technology spending downturn officially over in February. By April a report from Morgan Stanley was being greeted with headlines like "Tech Spending Roars Back" -- on a projected growth of just 3.2 percent for 2010! But anything positive looked a lot better than the previous year's across-the-board declines. Forrester's latest predictions are decidedly bullish -- an impressive 9.1 percent surge for U.S. software purchases this year, with continued strong growth into 2011.

In the best-of-breed software landscape that's emerging, some long-familiar features have become even more prominent. Though the claims of "recession immunity" for the software-as-a-service space proved unfounded -- nearly all tech vendors were hurting in the depths of the downturn -- SaaS providers bounced back early and strong. Strategy consulting firm AMI Partners Inc. predicts a respectable compound annual growth rate of 18 percent for this sector in the small-to-midsize business market through 2015.

Open-source systems providers survived the tech freeze without too much trouble. Adoption of open-source business intelligence (BI) tools, for example, is doubling every year, according to IT research firm Gartner, forcing the larger commercial providers to defend their turf by offering low-cost "starter editions" of their own products.

It's a tribute to the adaptability of the niche software firms that they've continued to explore new ground in the past couple of years, including the long-heralded migration of enterprise software to mobile platforms. Want your balanced scorecard on your iPhone? Best-of-breed business performance management (BPM) firm ActiveStrategy can provide that capability, along with access to all your KPIs and project status data. How about some tax research tools on your Blackberry? Check out CCH's new app, CCH Mobile.

For now, the emphasis in best-of-breed mobile tools is on data access, dashboards and reporting rather than heavy-duty number crunching. But expect that to change as vendors scramble to meet the needs of an increasingly mobile workforce.