I explained the problem in an email to Dell support next. I just got a reply telling me to reinstall the DVD software - where the problem initiated. I think I did so, but it was hard to tell. After doing this I also ran msconfig, as recommended, and that didn't seem to make a hell of a lot of difference. I thought, though, that then I could safely install the drivers for the new portable printer I bought today.
Twice it stalled on the hp blue screen. Yes, a different blue screen than the other one, the windows one, but just as distressing to me.
I got the idea of using the system restore. Only it would not take me to any place beyond several minutes ago, not far enough back to make any difference. But then I looked at the hp disk info again and learned that sometimes this program doesn't finish installing because XP makes C:\TEMP read-only. I changed it, got rid of that, started it again. And something else is going on now, heaven only knows what.
I have broken down a few times, silently. I know this is a temporary setback and that the warranty gives me all the options I really need to get it fixed. And yet it so distresses me. I know how much I need patience.