It couldn't happen again... surely... But, it really does look like Apple has pulled out of the UK's Apple Expo yet again. Exhibitors have already contacted Macworld, saying that many are considering withdrawing from the show in protest.

Apple Expo 2000 - scheduled to run at London's Wembley Conference & Exhibition Centre from Thursday March 30, through Saturday April 1, 2000 - was conceived by Apple and show organizer CKS as a "bigger and better" replacement for the shelved Apple Expo 99, which had been originally slated to run November 25-27 in the smaller Olympia exhibition hall in London.

The move to Wembley was meant to facilitate a giant arena for a keynote address by Apple's interim CEO, Steve Jobs. Wembley's conference hall would be able to seat 2,600 UK Mac fans, all eager to hear the Apple supremo for the very first time on these shores.

Apple hasn't exhibited at a UK expo since November 1997. The company got into a spat with 1998's show organizer Emap Trenton over the revamped expo's cross-platform nature. Apple pulled out and then re-joined the show, only to withdraw again over further "differences" with Emap (see "Apple pulls out of Expo 98").

This year's Apple Expo was meant to heal the rift with furious exhibitors, such as Adobe, Epson and Macromedia. But, with 70 per cent of the floor space booked, Apple canned the show (see "Apple Expo cancelled, bigger show in March 2000") in favour of the Wembley show next spring.

This morning, strong rumours from Apple's Cupertino HQ suggested that Jobs has gone cold on the importance of a UK show, preferring to give his keynote at Los Angeles' Internet World, held from April 3-7.

Apple's dramatic - and disappointing - cancellation has now been confirmed by several major vendors, who have phoned Macworld in absolute fury at the news.

When it was announced, the UK show was promoted to Apple's top five exhibition list - alongside the Macworld Expos in San Francisco (January), Tokyo (February) and New York (July), and Apple Expo in Paris (September). Such status virtually guaranteed an appearance by Jobs.

On the Apple Expo 2000 Web site, Martin Capel-Smith, Apple UK's head of marketing, is full of optimism: "Apple Expo now has a clear position in the events cycle - London in the Spring, Paris in the Autumn - our partners and users will know just when and where to catch up with all things Apple! We are now planning to ensure that both events are truly inspirational, showcasing all the latest techniques and technologies. I look forward to seeing you there!"

But if Jobs and Apple Europe have changed their minds for the fourth time on a presence at a UK show, the signs are not good for Apple Expo 2000. If Apple withdraws from the event, CKS will be left alone to pick up the pieces. The show could quite easily fall apart, with exhibitors following Apple's lead by pulling out of the much-battered show. The managing director of one major software company that had booked a large space at Apple Expo told Macworld that her company would not book at a UK Mac show again "until the very last minute... if at all".

When contacted by Macworld, Apple Expo show director Bob Denton could not comment, and said he was "seeking urgent clarification" about the reports, which have been backed up by our senior sources in the US. Apple itself was unavailable for comment at this time.

Keep reading Macworld Online's Daily News today for further news and comment from exhibitors.