I figured I'd investigate why the Control Panel was so slow to open. I opened the Control Panel on other Vista machines at Costco and it opened within 1-2 seconds...that seems reasonable to me.
Several Google searches turned up nothing so I turned to Dell customer service via chat. The tech support guy was very efficient about helping me. He logged onto my laptop with DellConnect (which is Dell's flavor of remote desktop using Citrix's GoToAssist tools).
The tech support guy did the following to fix the control panel slowness...
1) Deleted all the files in C:\Windows\Prefetch
2) Deleted all the files in C:\Windows\Temp
3) Opened the System Configuration tool by runnign msconfig (Click Start-> type in 'msconfig'
3.a) Selected the Startup tab
3.b) Selected "Disable all"
3.c) Selected the McAfee items in the list.
4) RebootI say this worked since now the Control Panel opens withing 1-2 seconds (the first time took ~15 seconds...I assume to build the icons initially).
Something in the "Prefetch" directory must have been corrupt, impacting the control panel. I think deleting everything in Prefetch would have done the trick. I think deleting Temp files doesn't hurt, but it was unnecessary.
I am a little annoyed that he disabled ALL of my startup programs and didn't ask me if there were any that I wanted to run at startup. I agree that not loading programs at startup is a good thing to improve "the opening of the control panel" but it doesn't help if I want iTunes running so that it fetches podcasts in the middle of the night. Later, I went back in and told the System Configuration utility to start iTunes automatically. This was easy for me...but it doesn't really pass the Grandma test.
All-in-all I learned about this PreFetch folder and my issue with Control Panel is fixed so I'm happy. Thanks to Dell Tech Support.