Apparently, since Vista just went live, HP has decided that this is the only OS they'll offer on their machines. No choice, this is what you get. For those of us that don't need the latest-and-greatest, and are perfectly happy to have the OS that we know runs everything we have, well, we're shit out of luck. I spent the rest of the afternoon looking at different machines, etc., and there does not appear to be a way to get the options I want without going with Vista.
So, I either suck it up and pay the extra for an OS that I don't need and learn to deal with it, or I find something else that isn't the machine I want. *sigh* Just once, just fucking ONCE, I'd like to be able to get the thing I want, the way I want it, instead of settling for less. It seems that this, too, is not an option.