You're probably thinking I abandoned the effort of repairing my Mom's ancient Dell workstation with the failed hard drive previously running Windows 98, right? Well not so fast my friend!
After about 80 hours of struggling to get Ubuntu to a usable and consistent state (yes, I feel less than brilliant about that), I finally concluded the hard drive I'd dug out of my box of obscure, random computer parts was bad itself. Way to go Einstein.
I found a deal on an 80GB, 7200RPM drive at Microcenter for $50, purchased it for pick-up on their web site, pulled the jumper, attached the 40-pin, mounted it to the chassis, booted into and installed Ubuntu, updated the distro, and wala: Ubuntu lives! Insultingly, this entire effort, including time spent retrieving the hard drive from Microcenter consumed a whopping 2 hours.
Mom visited this weekend. I spent 10 minutes walking her through the interface, how to configure the wireless card when returning home, and using OpenOffice.
So, the easy ;-) part is through and now we move into the support phase of our experiment...