First the good news:
A neighbor, who does IT work for a paycheck, took the hard-drive out of my XP-desktop and connected it to my Vista-laptop via an adapter that makes the hard-drive look like a USB-device. I was able to copy the data (most importantly, our family pictures) to my laptop. So that means no grief from the XYL.
The plan was for me then to put the hard-drive back into the tower and re-install the Microsoft-XP-Operating-System.
However, the bad news is:
I cannot get the laptop to "STOP" the USB-device, so I 'm unable to unplug it safely. I keep getting the error-message that it is in use. But nothing is using it. I even powered-down everything and started all up again, so I know no files are accessing that drive.
At this point in time (11:51 pm), I'm stumped.
If anyone has any ideas on how to properly disconnect the device, I'd be grateful for them; Plan-B is to talk tomorrow to my neighbor about this problem.
Also, at this point, from some Internet searches, it seems like my "system32\hal.dll" problem may have been caused by a power interruption during a Microsoft update; we did have a sudden storm come through the region last night while the update was happening.
Although I don't know if the desktop's IDE-drive is too old or not, I'm will replace it since it is 5 years-old and gets heavy daily use and get an external-drive for back-up use.
73 Jerry km3k