I got my spacebar back!
My experience with Dell customer support had been so annoying once before (my laptop casing still has a couple of dents in it. If my laptop was a person, it would be in therapy) that I decided to see if there were options. I knew there had to be, and was surprised to find just one that seemed to do the trick.
Thanks to the people at Swapkeys, I substituted the "[" key for the spacebar (choice of key based on ease of pain on fingers and redundancy of key.) It worked pretty well and had the unforseen side-effect of making my keyboard absolutely unusable by anyone else. I was surprised by how quickly I adopted to the new keys. Unfortunately the remapping didn't seem to work for all programs (over a unix prompt, the command line etc.) so it did place some limitations, but not on much that I did regularly, so I just never bothered trying to replace my keyboard.
Over the summer though, I decided to try to write some code again and just couldn't!
Every tool I've got accustomed to using (I wanted to go via cygwin and use Xemacs) demanded that I fix my damn keyboard. So, I called Dell again. Guess what? Something changed!! And this had to have been kicked off well before the CEO change.
Dell customer service was incredibly good. I chatted with an extremely polite, fast and diligent gentleman in Utah to promised to ship me a keyboard right away since I was within the warranty period. I didn't have to repeat the debate I had once before about whether something fell within the warranty or not.
Does this investment in customer service work? If you'd asked me months ago if I'd buy a Dell again for a personal machine, my answer would have been "no". My answer now is a "probably."....though I am leaning towards making my next purchase a tablet.