Defying company management, Apple Computer shareholders on Thursday approved a resolution calling on the Mac maker to treat stock options as an expense.

Preliminary results from a vote held at Apple's annual meeting show shareholders have approved a recommendation to change the way the company accounts in its financial results for options given to employees.

Apple's directors had called on shareholders to vote down the measure.

In Apple's proxy statement, the company's directors argued that expensing options before there was a standard method of doing so would put the company at a disadvantage. "We believe the Company and its shareholders are best served by retaining the current accounting policy with respect to employee stock options until there is consensus and clarity on whether, and if so how, to expense stock options."

Although endorsed by a majority of Apple's ownership, the shareholder resolution is technically a recommendation to the board of directors and is not binding. An company representative declined to comment on whether the Mac maker will implement the change.

The issue of whether and how to expense stock options has been a hot one among technology companies, who have relied on options grants as an incentive in recruiting and retaining not only executives but also rank-and-file workers. Companies can choose whether to account for options as an expense or merely to note in financial statements what the impact to the bottom line would have been had they done so.

However, analysts expect shareholders to impose more limits on company management as part of a backlash over perceived excesses.

Last month, Hewlett-Packard shareholders defied board recommendations on two issues, but narrowly voted down a proposal that called for options to be accounted for as an expense.

Expensing options can make a big difference in a company's financial results. For example, in the first fiscal 2003 quarter ended Dec. 28, 2002, Apple would have reported a loss of $61 million had it been required to account for options as an expense, compared with the $8 million loss it did report.

The vote comes as Apple is trying to strengthen its corporate governance policies after last year being criticized by BusinessWeek for having one of the United States' worst boards. In March, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company added former Vice President Al Gore to its board of directors and has pledged to add another independent director to the board. Gore was among those at Thursday's meeting.

Apple has said it will provide final results for the shareholder vote in its next quarterly filing in July.