I have no need nor intention to "bite the bullet" or whatever. The original problem has been solved as noted in previous post:
However, an update to the question i raised that was not answered:
Reinstalling IE nuked some of the settings needed for Classic Explorer to work (allow third party extensions got unchecked) - so, i needed to get access to the so called "internet" options again. Previously the only way i knew to do that was though IE and had to temporarily install IE just for that. This time i had a bit more luck with searching (by the virtue of Classic Shell having a sensible help around that does not wander through unrelated programs like IE) ... so, ...
... that darn thing is accessible through Settings -> Control Panel -> Internet Options. (yep, sue me, but i did not think of looking around in control panel)
That and the settings mentioned in the linked post are all that is needed to make VS happy. No need to have IE around.