An unfortunate fact of Windows life is that any Windows install will slowly wear out through use, getting more and more bogged down until finally one must take drastic measures. My own Windows XP install is coming up on a year of use and abuse and has for some time been showing signs this phenomenon, but what I wasn't aware of is that it's possible to create a clean Windows install without the reformatting-and-reinstall method that most people are accustomed to. It turns out that hidden behind blind corners and poorly-worded dialogs in the Windows XP setup is an option to repair and rebuild the OS, but leave applications and settings intact. This isn't the same repair mode that can be used to fix boot problems and other minor issues, and actually getting to it is a marvel of poor design on Microsoft's part. Fortunately, Fred Langa at Information Week has penned a step-by-step tutorial
on accessing and using this functionality. In the end, it probably won't make for results quite as good as a complete reformat and reinstall, but it looks like a good option for those who aren't yet ready to take that bigger step.