And then, when Julie prompted me to check the BIOS, I remembered that I'd turned on a setting that I thought meant "Don't show me annoying messages at startup, and thus save 4 seconds off the boot time", but apparently meant "Don't initialise devices properly, so that the laptop falls in a big heap whenever I put it to sleep."
Having set that back, everything started working just fine again, so I decided to reinstall Windows 8 on it from scratch, and see how long it took (having had several conversations recently about the difficulty of reinstalling various operating systems). So, here's the timeline:
16:31 - insert disk
16:33 - insert serial number
16:34 - format partition
16:35 - Press Go Button.
16:45 - REBOOT TIME!
16:51 - REBOOT TIME AGAIN! (And curiously nothing showed on the screen during that 6 minutes. Worried me a bit.)
16:57 - Wandered off and came back to the "log into your network" screen. Told it my email address/MS password
17:01 - done!
17:03 - to Ninite.com and use it to start the install of Firefox, Pidgin, Thunderbird, VLC, Spotify, Flash, Java, Paint.Net, LibreOffice, Utorrent, Dropbox, and 7Zip
17:05 - remove Internet Explorer from the Task Bar, as I won't be needing it ever again.
17:08 - Set up Firefox sync so I can have all of my bookmarks, addons, passwords, etc.
17:11 - Log into GMail and use Google Authenticator to reassure it that I am who I say I am.
17:13 - Log into Dropbox and confirm _that_ with Google Authenticator too.
17:15 - Generate a new application-specific password for all of my Google accounts that I can use from my laptop.
17:16 - Set up Thunderbird using that password.
17:19 - Restart Firefox to activate all of the addons it just synced across.
17:20 - tell Pocket my passwords so it can download a list of my "To read" articles.
17:21 - Tell tabmix plus my tabs should work properly (i.e. typing in a new URL opens a new tab)
17:22 - Notice that Ninite has finished installing everything.
17:23 - Download and install Feeddemon and XBMC
17:25 - sync Feeddemon to Google Reader
17:30 - Point XBMC at the video folder on the NAS
17:31 - Set up Pidgin with my Google Chat (XMPP) ID (again, using the unique laptop password from above).
At this point I have it set up with 99% of what I need on a day-to-day basis (and frankly LibreOffice and Paint.Net only get used occasionally). In exactly an hour. Dropbox is still syncing over the LAN, and will take another 50 minutes, but other than that it's all ready for me to play with.
Oh, and from my experience the other day of playing with Windows 8, I find it entirely functional and basically identitcal to Windows 7 (and a bit nicer in some respects), except for the full-screen Start Menu, which is a bit odd, but dramatically faster at finding application names when I type them. As my standard method of launching apps that aren't on the Task Bar is to hit the Windows Key, type the first few characters of the application name, and hit return, this is actually an improvement. I have no interest in using any of their new tablet-style apps, or getting sucked into their locked-down app system, so you'll have to ask someone else what they think of that.
Original post on Dreamwidth - there are comments there.