The Frank Langa how to hack Windows Recovery from Information Week actually works as far as it goes. I was able to perform the update as described, but with a couple of glitches.
1. The procedure appears to replace the Windows system files without disturbing the underlying registry entries and user accounts. However, if you are replacing a updated and patched version of Windows from a vanilla installation CD, then, of course, you are reverting back to a previous patched state, or even back to the baseline. So, the patching process has to happen all over again unless you have prepared a slipstreamed CD that contains all of the patches.
2. During the replacement procedure, you go through the network setup again…with your previous settings as a default. In my case, the computer had been connected to domain; when doing the procedure, of course, I had the machine on the bench, away from the office. Everything still worked out…but there was long period of five minutes or more where the install program looked for the domain controller. Miraculously, when I connected the machine back at the office, it connected fine to the domain.
3. Ultimately, for my purposes, the replacement didn’t work. I thought I would be replacing files that were affected by a virus, but in fact there was a trojan hidden in there somewhere, and the darn thing was still present when I rebooted.
4. The recovery procedure takes quite awhile, and maybe needs to be balanced against the effort of a full re-install. If you use the Dell recovery disk that comes with Dell workstations (sometimes you have to pay extra for it..) the reinstallation goes smoothly and it includes the video and sound drivers for the workstation so you don’t have to go and find those and install them separately.
When patching an early version of Windows XP, the process is a such a pain. You have to reboot multiple times, agree to EULAs, install all manner of unrelated crap, and answer a zillion questions. It is not an unattended process. Why can’t this work like the Red Hat updater…it looks at what you have, figures out the dependencies and then gives you what you need, all relatively transparently?