If you're a Windows 98 user, you'll be happy to know official support for your software will not end this Friday after all. Instead, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has changed its mind and will extend the service at least through mid-2006.

According to published reports, the world's largest software producer is making the move largely because of confusion in developing countries about the length of the support period for different Windows 98 products. But Reuters points out another possible reason: Officials in these and other countries have felt Microsoft is guilty of pushing consumers to upgrade to newer and more expensive products.

What's more, Bill Gates and his crew may be wary of having thousands of businesses and millions of unhappy users with strained budgets considering alternative operating systems, such as Linux -- distributed by the likes of Red Hat (NASDAQ:RHAT) and Novell's (NASDAQ:NOVL) SuSE Linux.

It's estimated that some 20% to 25% of all Windows-based computers still use Windows 98 or 95. As one analyst told ZDNet UK, "I'm not going to say a large chunk of the install base would have moved to Linux, but certainly there is an alternative there -- but I don't want to overstate that."

Free support for Windows 98 ended last July, and the newly extended paid support will still cost users $35 per incident. Those with problems can continue to consult the Windows 98 support center for free, or ask the many experts on the Fool's own Help with this STUPID computer! discussion board.