Apricot Computers Plc coupled the publication of its half-year results yesterday with the announcement of an UKP8m contract with the UK Department of Social Security that covers the complete range of Apricot equipment, including the new Qi Micro Channel workstation. Group chief executive Roger Foster said the company was now the major supplier of microcomputers to UK central govenment and defence, selling more in the last year than the combined total of its two nearest rivals, IBM and Amstrad. Pre tax profit for the group in the first six months rose 38% to UKP4.2m, with the computer systems division returning pre-tax profits up 105% at UKP771,000, on sales that rose 7% to UKP29.7m. However the main earners were Apricot Financial Systems, which saw profit rise 6% to UKP1.5m on sales slightly down at UKP6.8m, and Apricot Computer Services, which saw profit rise 20% to UKP1.5m on sales that soared 91% to UKP5.8m. Adatco, acquired last April, has since been integrated into the financial services division and is reckoned to have contributed UKP250,000 towards profit. There has been strong demand for the company’s Quasar financial management system, and the company has recently recei ved orders for its Citydesk financial workstation. The computer services division, which looks after maintenance and installation, saw sales rise 91% due to strong growth in systems installation and lower margin upgrade business. The loss-making graphics systems business Sigmex International Plc, acquired last April for UKP3.7m (CI No 919), traded profitably following a rationalisation programme and turned in profits of UKP403,000 on sales of UKP5.0m. Mr Foster said 60% of Sigmex’s turnover was overseas, with a strong user base that includes the Dutch Air Force and Electricite? de France. With a UKP10m cash surplus it cannot be long before Apricot hits the acquisition trail again. Foster says that he expects to announce one or two buys within the next three to six months, which are most likely to be within the UKP3m to UKP10m bracket. Apricot admits that it wants to en ter the third party maintenance business, it already takes care of its own equipment, and with the acquis ition of Sigmex earlier this year it got what it describes as a high quality maintenance business, and believes it is now well placed to expand. It already holds nearly 20% of the shares of one of the few remaining quoted maintenance companies, DDT Group Plc. Looking to the future Foster repeated that he hopes to build an Intel 80486-based machine as soon as the chips become available, probably some time in the second quarter. Turning to the vexed question of Micro Channel Architecture Foster said it was ridiculous to suggest there wasn’t a market for Micro Channel machines: he pointed to sales of between 1.5m and 2m for IBM’s PS/2 machines albeit only about half of them with Micro Channel – and said Apricot would be quite happy with a few of IBM’s crumbs.