The problem is that when I installed Office 97, it was incredibly buggy. (The compatibility options don't change this.) Simply trying to format cells in Excel reliably crashes the program. Word and Access have similar problems. Now Office 97 right off the disk is known to be buggy. MS issued two huge service packs to fix it. So I installed service release 1, it chugged away on the computer, and told me all was right with the world. Then I tried to install SR-2. It merrily chugged away a little bit, but then it told me that it couldn't install itself because SR-1 hadn't been installed yet. WTF? Tried uninstalling everything, then reinstalling. Same thing. I tried this a bunch of times over the last few days, changing compatibility settings and whatnot. No joy.
Did some Googling. It seems SR-1 had a problem when Win 98 first came out, in that it wouldn't update all the files, because Win 98's file optimization routines did something to break the install routine. MS had to release a new version to deal with 98. They won't do that for XP given that they're now two editions of Office along. SR-1 was designed differently than SR-2. SR-1 patches the existing files. SR-2 completely overwrites them, but for some ridiculous reason known best only to MS won't do it if the first patch isn't installed. Makes zero sense, but there it is. I then checked the install logs for SR-1, and it patched some files, but for whatever reason ignored a bunch of others as being incorrect. The results of this are even buggier applications. When you one of the programs asks if you want to save a file, instead of buttons saying "yes," "no," and "cancel" in the dialogue window, you get "no," "cancel," and "yes," but the button marked "no" actually means "yes," and so on. Very strange.
Finally, with nothing left to lose, it occurred to me that I have perfectly good copies of the patched files on my Win 95 machine. If I copied those over the unpatched files, that would essentially be the same as what SR-2 does. As long as SR-2 doesn't make any registry entries I should be okay. So I did that. And it seems to have worked. Excel appears stable. Certainly, it's not crashing when I try to format a cell. Hurrah!
The other thing I installed is Mozilla Firefox rev. 0.9.1. It's a nice browser. It seems much faster than Mozilla. b.org works fine, as does LJ most of the time. Occasionally I get some funky formatting of posts, but then it goes away. The only real annoyance so far is that the bemoved the "bookmarks" button from the bookmarks tool bar, which seems a very strange design decision. You can customize the tool bar to add a bookmarks icon, but it opens as a sidebar instead of as a dropdown. I hate the sidebar.