I am wondering at what point it makes sense to curse very loudly, purchase a generic Windows-running PC from WoC, and send this perfectly respectable computer, with six years of service behind it, to Cambridge Computer Recycling where it will be examined, declared too weird for resale (it has Rambus memory and a 478-pin-to-423-pin adaptor hosting a 2.3GHz Pentium 4 - you may not remember that they made 2.3GHz Pentium 4s; AGP graphics, PATA hard discs, and a floppy drive with a label 'tested OK 23/9/1997' on it), and thrown away as good for nothing.
You would naively suppose that installing Windows XP onto a computer which has in the past run Windows XP, and which until you started the installation was happily running SuSE 10.1, would not be a hard job. I've spent six hours at it so far, I've removed, twiddled, checked jumpers and reinserted all the hardware on the system, but whatever I do, and whichever of the hard discs I have around I use, the best case is that Windows Setup spends half an hour formatting the disc before declaring that the disc cannot be formatted and stopping. The normal case is that it fails to recognise the existence of either CD-ROM drive. No smoke has come out, yet, which is better than the computer I bought at the start of this year.
I suspect it's something to do with masters and slaves on IDE channels. Or, I suppose, it's conceivable that both hard discs are broken. I sit. I sip cocoa, I plan an early night. Unfortunately, my current reading is the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Unbeliever, which is not as purely calming as something with more cuddly pandas and fewer self-destructive depressed lepers would be.
Update: As always, I spoke too soon; having run out of things to try, the final thing I tried actually worked. The machine runs Windows XP, connects to the wireless network (note: ensure you have typed in MAC addresses correctly when adding to the allow-from-only-these list), plays DVDs (thanks to VLC), and is in fact a reasonable form of the birthday present that I'd tried to give to my youngest brother back in July. My shoulders feel less spiky already, and it's only, umm, four hours since I started this time, and I only wasted a couple of hours back in August.
Downloading security update KB873339 (1 of 86) - and it was a WinXP SP2 install disc!