Stephen Pritchard joins the faithful at the Apple Expo
The annual Apple Expo in London is the second most holy day in the Macintosh calendar. True believers fly to the much larger and even more devotional MacWorld Expo in America. For the rest of us, London's Olympia has to do. Normally, the expo is where the Mac faithful come to praise that unique blend of hardware and software which makes it, to those in the know, the only true computer platform.

This year, the expo was more akin to giving thanks for the Mac's divine deliverance. A year ago, the future of Apple Computer - and with it the Mac OS - was seriously in doubt, not least on these pages. Last year's expo had something of the air of a fire sale, with punters naming their prices for discontinued models at the show's stalls.

This year, there was an overwhelming sense of relief. Apple is still in business, still an independent company and it even posted a profit for the last quarter. And, after years of talk, the Mac clone business is at last taking off. Visitors to the expo, which ended on Saturday, could see systems from Motorola, Umax and Power Computing, and also order Apple's own low-cost response, the PowerMacintosh 4400.

There are still areas for concern, even among the faithful. Apple's market share is down to under 6 per cent, although the company says that market share is no longer a priority. And here, at least, it matters little. Visitors to Apple Expo represent the dedicated minority of computer users who would rather dive headfirst through Olympia's glass roof than hear the start-up gong of Microsoft Windows.

Next year will be different. We might finally know what Apple is planning to counter the challenge of Microsoft's Windows 95 update, codenamed Cairo. And Apple's PowerBooks might be successful again, and actually be in stock. Last week, few dealers could supply the new portable models. Even older PowerBooks were in short supply.

And next year, CHRP will be here. CHRP is a design that lets a Mac run Windows (even if it is Windows NT), and a correctly designed CHRP PC can also be a Mac. Companies that make Macs are investing heavily in CHRP, as they chase the Holy Grail of compatibility. Whatever else happens, the odds are that Windows will be prominent at next year's expo