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cross-partition upgrade

I have a machine with a functioning warge an woody, on two partitions.
Well, almost functioning.  Of the two systems I had expected woody to
be more stable, but it's happened the other way around.  At my last
motherboard upgrade (forced by failing a smoke test), woody lost all
semblance of ethernet support.  No more security upgrades.  No more
penetration attempts from outside either.  No easy dist-upgrade to
etch over the net.

Now, when sarge becomes stable, I'd like to replace woody with
etch.  But most of space taken on the woody partition consists
 of the users' /home directories, which are shared (vis symbolic
links) between sarge and woody.  So I want to do the upgrade
without installing from scratch.  (Or can the new installer
install withoug wiping the existing data?)  In particular, I
think it is probably worth rerunning the installation-time
hardware recognition that might enable it to recognise the
ethernet card.

This leads to several questions.

     Can I use the new sarge netinstall to install over top of the woody
system without losing user data?  I really only need enough sarge (or
etch) to get the ethernet working.

     Where are all the user and configuration data anyway?  Obviously in /home
and /etc, respectively.  But there's not so obviously also /usr/local, and /var/spool/mail.  Where else does this kind of stuff hang out?

     Can I burn the first sarge CD, change my sources.list to point to it
instead of the seven woody CDs, and do a dist-upgrade from aptitude,
intending to modify sources.list again to connect to the debian package
archives later
     Or will this result in deleting most of the woody stuff?

     Can I copy the bulk of the sarge partition to the woody partition
(with tar oc cp--archive) replacing most woody system files, and expect
the thing to work.
     Again, I'd have to protect the filesystems that might
contain user data for this.  And are there esoteric filesystems
(like /proc) that need special consideration (or, possible, no
copying at all)?

-- hendrik

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