Analysts and investors so far have responded positively to Apple's fourth quarter financial results, announced last night.

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster told CNN: "Apple changed paths tonight from being forever a niche player in the computer business to now being on track to be a legitimate market share player."

The company exceeded expectations in its just-gone quarter, delivering profit up 27 per cent at $546 million on $4.84 billion in revenue. Analysts had expected revenue of $4.67 billion.

Apple is targeting revenue between $6 billion and $6.2 billion in the current quarter.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs predicted another great year for Apple in 2007, leading Endpoint Technologies analyst Roger Kay to tell Bloomberg: "They have a high degree of confidence in what they are doing."

"This is sustainable growth and that's what the world needed to see,'' said Daedalus Capital analyst, Stephen Coleman.

Apple set a new record for Mac sales in the quarter, which drove Munster to observe: "It all came down to Mac numbers and they are absolutely off the ball."

Apple gained significant market share in the quarter, and is now the fourth biggest computer maker in the US. This drove IDC analyst Richard Shim to tell CNet "We're kind of getting beyond this notion of a halo effecf from the iPod. The Mac business can not only stand on its own, but it can start running."

Hedge fund manager Steve Wallman thinks Apple's momentum is close to critical mass, telling the Mercury News: "I think it's possible the snowball is so big and going so fast downhill that nothing can stop it."

Another asset manager, Scott Rothbort told the same paper: "This halo is really beginning to take hold."

Focus is shifting away from Apple's iPod, it seems. Investment manager Michael Church told Reuters:"A lot of people are looking at Mac sales to drive growth over the next two years."

There's more goodness ahead, it seems, at least according to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who promised: "Looking forward, 2007 is likely to be one of the most exciting new product years in Apple's history."